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Gaddafi’s forces pound rebel-held town with rockets

Video by Luke BROWN , Matthieu MABIN , Alexandra RENARD

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-04-21

Troops loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi fired more than 100 rockets on the rebel-held city of Misrata, rebels said Saturday. A human rights group has said that Gaddafi forces are using illegal cluster bombs in residential areas of the city.

REUTERS - Forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi fired at least 100 Grad rockets into Misrata on Saturday, a rebel spokesman said, in a third day of heavy bombardment of the rebel-held city. 

Misrata is the rebels' only major bastion in the western part of Libya. Pro-Gaddafi forces have laid siege to it for seven weeks after cities across the coast rose up against the Libyan leader's four-decade rule in mid-February.
 
"They fired Grads at an industrial area this morning, at least 100 rockets were fired. No casualties are reported," Abdelbasset Abu Mzereiq told Reuters by telephone.
 
In the east, rebel military leader, Abdel Fattah Younes, said his forces were engaged in fierce fighting in Brega, west of Benghazi, and said he hoped he would have "good news" soon.
 
"We have people who are positioned at the entrance to Brega, they have cleared out some snipers. We've basically cleared out Gaddafi's forces from the eastern outskirts," rebel commander Jibril Mohammed Jibril said on Saturday on the fringes of Ajdabiyah, the nearest town to Brega still under rebel control.
 
A rebel at the entrance to Ajdabiyah said rebels were still being ambushed by government forces along the main highway linking the two towns. Artillery fire was heard coming from the direction of Brega, but it was unclear who was firing, he said.
 
Desperate to escape
 
More than 100 rockets landed in Misrata on Friday as well, and rebels said government forces had reached the city centre.
 
Human Rights Watch said it had evidence Gaddafi's forces were firing cluster bombs into residential areas of Misrata. It published photographs of what it said were Spanish-produced cluster bombs, which release grenades designed to explode into fragments and kill the maximum number of people.
 
Rebel spokesman Abdelsalam in Misrata said pro-Gaddafi forces had on Friday also shelled the road leading to the port, a lifeline for trapped civilians and the main entry po int for international aid agencies, killing eight people.
 
"Today was very tough ... Gaddafi's forces entered Tripoli Street and Nakl al Theqeel road," he said by phone, referring to a main Misrata thoroughfare.
 
"Witnesses said they saw pro-Gaddafi soldiers on foot in the city centre today. Except for snipers, they usually stay in their tanks and armoured vehicles," the spokesman said.
 
A government reconnaissance helicopter had flown over the city, he said, despite a no-fly zone mandated by the U.N. Security Council and enforced by NATO warplanes.
 
Late on Friday, an aid ship brought nearly 1,200 Misrata evacuees to the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, just a fraction of those stranded and desperate to escape, an official of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said.
 
Up to 10,000 people still needed to be evacuated from Misrata, IOM aid coordinator Jeremy Haslam said. Continued bombardment made it impossible to get into many areas of the city, he said.
 
"We threw out the textbook, basically. We couldn't get to the most vulnerable, those who need to get out fastest, because it was too dangerous," Haslam said.
 
Government spokesman Ibrahim said that a Red Cross team had arrived in Misrata on Saturday.
 
Stalemate
 
On Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama acknowledged the military situation on the ground in Libya had reached stalemate three weeks into the war, but said he expected NATO allies to force Gaddafi from power eventually.
 
Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy published a joint newspaper article vowing to continue their military campaign until Gaddafi leaves power. They acknowledged their aim of regime change went beyond protecting civilians, as allowed by a U.N. Security Council resolution, but said Libyans would never be safe under Gaddafi.
 
Obama told the Associated Press: "You now have a stalemate on the ground militarily, but Gaddafi is still getting squeezed in all kinds of other ways. He is running out of money, he is running out of supplies. The noose is tightening and he is becoming more and more isolated."
 
Hundreds are believed to have died in Misrata, under what Obama, Cameron and Sarkozy described in their article as a "medieval siege".
 
"Our duty and our mandate under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 is to protect civilians, and we are doing that. It is not to remove Gaddafi by force. But it is impossible to imagine a future for Libya with Gaddafi in power," they wrote.
 
The United States led the bombing campaign in its first week, but has since taken a back seat, putting NATO in command with the British and French responsible for most air strikes. Obama has made clear Washington was not planning to resume to a more active military role.
 
Britain and France spent this week trying to persuade other NATO allies to contribute more fire power.
 
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the NATO allies were searching for ways to provide funds to the rebels, including helping them to sell oil from areas they control.
 
"The opposition needs a lot of assistance, on the organisational side, on the humanitarian side, and on the military side," she said.
 
Rebel leader Younes told Al-Arabiya TV late on Friday the insurgents had secured weapons from friendly nations, but gave no details.

 

Date created : 2011-04-16

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