Gaddafi troops attack rebel-held Misrata in west
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Libyan government forces have launched an offensive against the city of Misrata in a bid to crush the popular uprising in Libya's third largest city. Residents reported to Reuters that they could hear shelling and the sound of anti-aircraft fire.
REUTERS - Libyan government forces attacked the town of Misrata on Saturday, trying to retake the last remaining rebel holdout in the west of the country, rebels and residents told Reuters.
Earlier this week forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi recaptured the city of Zawiyah the only other town in western Libya which was openly defying the Libyan leader’s four-decade rule.
“They are trying to get into Misrata, they are now 10 km away,” rebel spokesman Gemal said by telephone. “We are hearing shelling. We have no choice but to fight,” he said.
Another rebel, Mohamad Ahmed, said he could hear the sound of anti-aircraft guns getting closer to the city centre.
The government says the rebels are bandits or al Qaeda operatives. Gaddafi’s opponents themselves deny any link to extremist groups, saying they are fighting for freedom and civil rights.
Misrata around 200 km (130 miles) east of Tripoli is Libya’s third largest city and an important commercial hub with a population of about 300,000.
Rebels and residents there had been preparing for a government onslaught since troops regained control of Zawiyah, 50 km (30 miles) west of Tripoli.
A Misrata resident, who gave his named only as Mohammed, confirmed an attack by Gaddafi’s loyalists was under way.
“I think they are 5 km from the town now, I can hear loud explosions. Everybody is rushing home, the shops have closed and the rebels are taking positions in the neighbourhoods,” he said.
Mussa Ibrahim, a government spokesman in Tripoli, could neither confirm nor deny a military operation was under way.
“We want to give people a chance to lay down their arms. There is a hard core of al Qaeda fighters there,” he said in Tripoli.
“It looks like a Zawiyah scenario. Some people will give up, some will disappear, so their numbers are declining. Tribal leaders are talking to them. Those who stay behind, we will deal with them accordingly,” he said.
“Misrata will be completely within united Libya very soon”.