Libya rebels claim 'Misurata is free'

At least 10 dead and dozens hurt in street battles as government troops reported to be withdrawing from besieged city.

    Intense street fighting continued in Misurata on Saturday, killing at least 10 and wounding dozens more [Al Jazeera]

    Pro-democracy forces have declared Misurata "free" amid reports that troops loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi have been ordered to withdraw from the besieged western port city.

    "Misurata is free, the rebels have won. Of Gaddafi's forces, some are killed and others are running away," Gemal Salem, a spokesman for pro-democracy forces, told the Reuters news agency by telephone from the city.

    There was no immediate independent confirmation of the claim.

    Soldiers captured by pro-democracy fighters on Saturday said the army had been ordered to retreat from the western port city.


    "The rebels attacked us while we were withdrawing from Misurata near a bridge this morning," said Ayad Muhammad, a young soldier.

    At least 10 people were killed in street battles in the city on Saturday, a doctor told the AFP news agency at a hospital overwhelmed by an influx of casualties, including government soldiers.

    "Since eight o'clock this morning, we have received 10 dead and 50 wounded, which is usually the number for a full day," Khalid Abu Salra said at the main Hikma hospital in Libya's third-largest city.

    "We're overwhelmed, overwhelmed. We lack everything: personnel, equipment and medicines."

    Hundreds of civilians have been killed in the fighting in Misurata.

    Tactical change

    The US military, meanwhile, confirmed its air force carried out its first Predator missile strike in Libya on Saturday, but gave no details.

    Saturday's upsurge in the battle for Misurata comes after the Gaddafi government said its soldier had been issued an "ultimatum" by local tribes to stop the rebellion in the city, 200 kilometres east of the capital, Tripoli.

    Al Jazeera's Mike Hanna sheds light on the role
    'tribes' are playing in the battle for Libya

    Libyan officials late on Friday acknowledged that the siege had been broken when pro-democracy forces seized the port and that NATO air strikes had taken their toll.

    "The tactic of the Libyan army is to have a surgical solution, but it doesn't work, with the air strikes it
    doesn't work," Khaled Kaim, the Libyan deputy foreign minister, said from Tripoli.

    "The situation in Misurata will be eased, will be dealt with by the tribes around Misurata and the rest of Misurata's people and not by the Libyan army."

    Abdelsalam, a spokesman for the pro-democracy fighters in Misurata, said pro-Gaddafi tribes were in a minority in the area.

    "There are two small pro-Gaddafi settlements outside Misurata. They make less than one per cent of the population of Misurata and the surrounding area.

    "Those people know that when Gaddafi's regime falls, they will fall with it," Abdelsalam added, predicting the government would boost their strength by paying mercenaries to pose as tribesmen.

    Hours after the government's announcement of a shift in tactics in Misurata, NATO bombs struck what appeared to be a bunker near Gaddafi's Bab al-Aziziya compound in central Tripoli.

    Click on image for comprehensive coverage on Libya

    Reuters reporters who were part of a guided government tour for foreign reporters said the area was surrounded by a wall and guarded by watchtowers and soldiers.

    They saw two large holes in the ground where the bombs had torn through soil and reinforced concrete, to pierce what appeared to be an underground bunker.

    There was mixed reaction to the government's announcement about changing tactics.

    Mustafa bin Sweid, a doctor at Misurata hospital, was sceptical about the government's withdrawal announcement, saying: "We don't believe anything that Gaddafi's people say. Just listen to the sounds of the mortars … they're lying."

    Another doctor told Reuters on condition of anonymity that Gaddafi's forces were on the defensive, adding: "I don't think they would do this for tactical reasons. They're humiliated."

    On Friday, pro-democracy forces in Misurata seized control of a downtown office building that had been a base for Gaddafi's snipers and other troops after a furious two-week battle.

    An aid ship chartered by the International Organisation for Migration delivered 160 tonnes of food and medicine to Misurata on Saturday before evacuating around 1,000 stranded refugees, mostly Nigerians.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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