Heavy fighting grips battle-ravaged Misurata

At least 25 dead and dozens wounded in latest fighting despite Libyan government claims that army has halted operations.

    Heavy fighting has raged anew in Misurata, leaving at least 25 people killed and at least 71 others critically injured as forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi gave up more ground inside Libya's third-largest city.

    Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim said early on Sunday the army had suspended operations against rebels in Misurata, but not left the city, to enable local tribes to find a peaceful solution.

    "The armed forces have not withdrawn from Misurata. They have simply suspended their operations," Kaim told a news conference in the capital.

    If the rebels don't surrender in the next two days, armed tribesmen will fight them in place of the army, he said.

    Residents, however, reported heavy fighting, shelling and explosions in the east and south of Misurata on Saturday, and doctors said the day was one of the bloodiest in weeks.

    Mohammed El Fortia, medical director of Hakima Clinic,  the medical facility overrun with casualties throughout this conflict, told Al Jazeera that many of those who died on Saturday had come upon booby-trapped bombs left by pro-Gaddafi troops.

    The traps, said the physician, were attached to weapons as well as bodies.

    El Fortia could no confirm the number deaths among pro-Gaddafi troops as their remains were not brought to his clinic.

    He did, however, confirm that 71 injured were brought into the clinic.

    Meanwhile, Khalid Abu Falra, a physician at Misurata's main private clinic told AFP news agency the casualty toll was double than that of a "normal" day of fighting.

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

    Ambulances pulled up outside the hospital every five to 10 minutes, also bringing in wounded loyalists.

    On Friday night, the government said it was withdrawing its military forces and allowing armed tribesmen to take over the battle. But the opposition was sceptical about the claim, saying it doubted Gaddafi's troops would fully depart.

    "Gaddafi forces are moving back," said Safi Eddin al-Montaser, a rebel spokesman in Misurata. But he added: "People are still nervous because we don't know the next step of Gaddafi's forces."

    On Saturday, some rebels in the city told the Reuters news agency that Misurata was "free" of pro-Gaddafi forces but a rebel spokesman in Benghazi, the opposition's eastern stronghold, said reports that government forces would withdraw were a "trick".

    He said rebels probably meant that Tripoli Street in the centre of the city was free, but warned that fighters on the ground were likely unaware of what he called "Gaddafi's dirty game".

    "Gaddafi is not stupid to give up Misurata," he said. "Do you know what it means [if] Misurata falls? It means Tripoli will also fall and so will other areas like Tajoora, Yefrin and others."

    Misurata is not known to have very large or dominant tribes, and rebels in the besieged city questioned how much support Gaddafi had among them.

    Jalal el-Gallal, a spokesman for the rebels' leadership council in Benghazi, also said he doubted the regime would fully withdraw from Misurata.

    Drone strikes begin

    NATO said a US Predator drone destroyed a multiple rocket launcher on Saturday in the Misurata area that was being used against civilians. The Pentagon said it was the first attack carried out in Libya by one of the
    drones, which began flying missions in the country on Thursday.

    The US has confirmed that its first Predator drone attack destroyed a government rocket launcher that had menaced civilians in the western city.

    In eastern Libya, which is largely controlled by the rebels, other NATO strikes smashed more than two dozen sedans and pickup trucks belonging to government forces about halfway between Ajdabiya and the strategic oil town of Brega, said rebel battalion commander Col. Hamid Hassy.

    The front in the east has been stalled between Brega and Ajdabiya for weeks. NATO stepped into the Libyan fighting in mid-March, unleashing airstrikes against Libyan military targets as part of a UN mandate to protect civilians.

    Three new explosions rocked the Libyan capital in the late evening as NATO warplanes overflew Tripoli, AFP journalists said, after several earlier blasts in the city centre and outlying quarters.

    Heavy anti-aircraft and automatic arms fire were also heard in many areas of the city.

    Two of the earlier explosions came from downtown Tripoli, while the rest came from areas further out, but the targeted sites could not immediately be determined.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and Agencies


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