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Death toll rises as pro-Gaddafi forces besiege Zawiyah

Video by Rebecca BOWRING , Nicholas RUSHWORTH

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-03-06

At least seven people were killed Saturday after pro-Gaddafi forces besieged the rebel-controlled city of Zawiyah, according to local witnesses. Some reports have put the death toll much higher.

AFP - Forces loyal to embattled Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi were accused by a doctor of perpetrating a "massacre" during fierce fighting on Saturday in the strategically vital city of Zawiyah.

"This was a real massacre. The situation is catastrophic. They killed many people. They killed my daughter," the doctor told AFP on the telephone from Zawiyah, 60 kilometres (40 miles) west of Tripoli.

Battles raged in Zawiyah as besieged rebels in the city centre fought back against two separate offensives launched by pro-Kadhafi forces, who witnesses said fired on civilians.

The loyalists rained tank shells and machine gun fire on Zawiyah as they sought to retake the city from rebels.

"The tanks are all over the city and shooting at houses ... The shelling isn't stopping," a resident told AFP in the city, which anti-regime forces have controlled since February 27.

"Pray for us," he said before the call was abruptly cut off.

Other witnesses and medics said on the phone that Zawiyah was still in rebel hands but under siege by loyalist troops following a dawn assault followed by another late in the afternoon.

The death toll was at least seven but was expected to rise.

"At least seven people were killed in the offensive launched this morning by two battalions on the city and there are dozens of wounded," a doctor told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"What happened this morning is horrible. The mercenaries opened fire on anyone who dared go outdoors, even on children," said the doctor, appealing for help.

"At the hospitals we lack everything. We need help," said the doctor.

A resident stressed that, despite the heavy assault Saturday, rebels were still in control.

"There were two offensives. The Khamis battalion (normally commanded by one of Kadhafi's sons) struck from the east of the city and the Hosban battalion struck from the west," he said.

"The resistance (rebels) killed many people and captured many enemy forces," he said, adding that he was in a "state of shock."

A resident, also reached by telephone, said the rebels pushed the pro-Kadhafi troops out of Zawiyah.

"Three soldiers were trapped in an apartment in the town. One of them committed suicide and the other two were taken prisoner by the revolutionaries," he added.

He said the first assault had commenced at 6:00 am (0400 GMT) on Saturday.

"They entered the town with tanks and four-by-fours and attacked the insurgents with heavy weapons. But they were repulsed and we captured many weapons and at least three tanks," the resident added.

Fighting erupted on Friday in Zawiyah, the nearest city to Tripoli in rebel hands, causing many dead and wounded, according to opposition sources and residents.

The opposition said rebels had tried to storm the Al-Harsha military base in Zawiyah and were met with heavy fire from the garrison, which also fired on civilians near the hospital.

That account tallied with a reporting from Zawiyah by Sky News correspondent Alex Crawford, who said pro-Kadhafi forces rolling in on tanks shot at civilians.

"We witnessed a fresh column of tanks coming into the town, at least five. They were loaded up with soldiers," said Crawford.

"That's just what I witnessed, but I am told that in other areas of the city there were many more tanks as well.

"As they went by, the soldiers were shooting at people sitting and standing outside their homes, including a family which has a 10-year old boy," she said.

Crawford reported that hospitals had received at least eight dead and that she had also seen the bodies of up to a dozen loyalists.
 

Date created : 2011-03-05

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