Libya’s Misrata under intense bombardment: rebels

By Souhail Karam

RABAT (Reuters) – Forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi mounted an intense artillery bombardment of rebel-held Misrata on Saturday and pro-Gaddafi troops attacked shops and homes in the city center, residents said.

Misrata is the last big rebel stronghold in western Libya but after weeks of shelling and encirclement, government forces appear to be gradually loosening the rebels’ hold on the city, despite Western air strikes on pro-Gaddafi targets there.

One resident said an attempt by government forces to take control of the city center had been fought off by rebels but that afterwards pro-Gaddafi forces started indiscriminate shelling of Misrata’s port and the city center.

“They used tanks, rocket-propelled grenades, mortar rounds and other projectiles to hit the city today. It was a random and very intense bombardment,” a rebel spokesman called Sami told Reuters by telephone. “We no longer recognize the place. The destruction cannot be described.”

“The pro-Gaddafi soldiers who made it inside the city through Tripoli Street are pillaging the place, the shops, even homes, and destroying everything in the process.

“They are targeting everyone, including civilians’ homes. I don’t know what to say, may Allah help us,” he said.

Al Jazeera television station quoted another rebel spokesman, Abdulbasset Abu Mzereiq, as saying five people had been killed, including a six-year-old child in a car hit by shellfire.

Accounts from Misrata, Libya’s third biggest city about 200 km (130 miles) east of Tripoli, could not be independently verified because Libyan authorities have not allowed journalists to report freely from the city.

CITY CUT OFF

Misrata, like many cities across Libya, rejected Gaddafi’s rule in a revolt in February. In a violent crackdown, Gaddafi’s forces restored control in most places in western Libya, leaving Misrata cut off and surrounded.

The rebels say they still control the city center and the sea port, but Gaddafi’s forces have pushed into the center along Tripoli Street, the main thoroughfare.

A resident described one person killed by shellfire on Friday who was brought to hospital “in pieces.” He said pro-Gaddafi troops tried to enter the city from the east and west, and from the Mediterranean cost to the north.

“(This) was defeated by the brave rebels. After failing in this attempt as usual they (Gaddafi troops) began indiscriminate shelling which targeted the city center and the port area and the surrounding areas,” the resident told Reuters.

A Libyan living abroad who is in touch with people in Misrata said casualties had started arriving at the clinic in the city which is being used as a makeshift hospital. “People are … crying for help,” he said.

Western warplanes have attacked an air base south of Misrata where pro-Gaddafi forces have their main base, and residents said at least one warship belonging to the international anti-Gaddafi coalition was at anchor off the coast.

But some people in Misrata have expressed frustration that Western governments — which have assured their war-weary public that they will not be drawn into putting troops on the ground in Libya — are not doing more.

Another Misrata resident told Reuters in an email that the 32nd Brigade, one of the best-equipped and trained units in the Libyan armed forces, was attacking the city.

“So the question is where is the international community?” the resident asked.

(Additional reporting by Maria Golovnina in Tripoli, Edmund Blair in Cairo and Michael Georgy in Tunis; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Andrew Roche)

Libya’s Misrata under intense bombardment: rebels