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Scores dead as Falluja resists US onslaught

Fierce street battles continued to rage in Falluja with resistance fighters putting up stif

Last Modified: 07 Apr 2004 07:51 GMT
Casualties are mounting in the besieged town

Fierce street battles continued to rage in Falluja with resistance fighters putting up stiff opposition to US occupation forces trying to gain control of the restive town.

Hospital sources said at least 45 Iraqis were killed and 90 injured in attacks on the besieged town on Wednesday.

Among the casualties were a family sitting in a car parked behind the Abd al-Aziz al-Samarai mosque when it was bombed by a US airplane.

Another 53 Iraqis died in attacks overnight on Tuesday in the town which was sealed off on Sunday by US forces. Twenty-five of those killed were from a single family.

"More than 200 Iraqis, including women and children, have been injured in the past 24 hours," said Aljazeera correspondent in Falluja, Ahmad Mansur.

American forces initially said those killed in Wednesday's attack on the mosque were fighters taking refuge.

But a marine officer was later forced to admit that US forces had failed to find any bodies.

"When we hit that building I thought we had killed all the bad guys, but when we went in they didn't find any bad guys in the building," Lieutenant Colonel Brennan Byrne told reporters.

Instead, he speculated the insurgents may have fled after a Cobra helicopter gunship fired a Hellfire missile at the mosque, and before an aircraft dropped a laser-guided bomb.

Mosque damaged

The bomb hit the minaret of the mosque and ploughed a hole through the building, shattering windows and leaving the mosque badly damaged.

A US marine was also shot dead near the mosque in the fighting.

Fighting is spreading across Iraq

"The situation is getting worse," he said. "An ambulance carrying casualties was attacked on its way to the medical centre.

The American forces closed the road leading to the city's hospital and everybody walking in the streets of Falluja is now becoming a target.

US forces have evacuated factories in the industrial area and asked workers not to come back for a day or two.

Earlier, speaking live from a rooftop, Mansur said the town's hospital was struggling to cope with the rising casualties.

"They are attacking residential neighbourhoods," he said as US warplanes swooped over the area and fired rockets. Intense gunfire could be heard from the streets.

"The residents of Falluja are asking 'where is the Iraqi Governing Council?'," said the visibily shaken correspondent. "They are asking why the Iraqis are not protecting them."

Plea for help

"Residents of Falluja call on the Arab world to intervene and lift the siege on this town of 300,000. They ask where are the Arab leaders in this time?" he said before throwing himself to the ground as a plane flew overhead.

Several children were among
the casualties in Falluja

Earlier on Wednesday, all the city's mosques called for a jihad against occupation forces.

A statement purportedly from insurgents claimed they had shot down three US helicopters, destroyed two jeeps and two armored vehicles.

Aljazeera's correspondent quoted witnesses as saying that a US helicopter had been shot down and a tank set on fire.

They also said they were still in control of the city and had put US forces to flight, but Byrne said marines advancing from the south had reached the centre of Falluja. The claim could not be verified.
 

An Aljazeera crew, including cameramen Layf Muftaq and Hasan Walid, sound engineer Sayf al-Din and correspondent Hamid Hadid, are the only media personnel inside the town.

US forces besieged the town after last week's ambush in which four security guards were killed and their bodies mutilated and dragged through the streets.

Source:
Aljazeera
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