Heavy shelling of Misurata continues

Death toll mounts as Gaddafi's forces intensify bombardment of city despite claim that operations had been suspended.

    Hundreds of Libyan are fleeing the besieged western city of Misurata, which has been battered by days of fighting between opposition and pro-government forces.

    Reports say the surge in fighting has left at least 36 people dead and more than 100 others critically wounded, even though forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi, the long-serving Libyan ruler, appeared to have given up more ground inside Misurata.

    Al Jazeera's Andrew Simmons, reporting from the city on Sunday, said that the attacks were intensifying.

    "It is an anarchic warfare situation ... yes they [Gaddafi's forces] did pull back, [but] was it a measure militarily designed to give them the advantage later on? Yes, possibly," he said.

    "They are now launching the biggest barrage since this whole conflict started, across the whole population, civilians included."

    Click for comprehensive coverage on the conflict in Libya 

    Earlier in the day, Khaled Kaim, the Libyan deputy foreign minister, said 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    "The armed forces have not withdrawn from Misurata.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," he said in the capital Tripoli.

    If the rebels do not surrender in the next two days, armed tribesmen will fight them in place of the army, Kaim said.

    Our correspondent said "the rebels are really up against it".

    "They are extremely cautious now, something unusual for these people: cautious about the way forward. They are fighting hand to hand," he said.

    "I have been to the opposition hospital and there is a continual streaming of ambulances, with civilians on board, fighters on board and also these pro-Gaddafi fighters coming in, causing massive trouble at the hospital."

    Residents of Misurata have, meanwhile, been holding demonstrations calling for greater intervention from international forces.

    And with no let-up in the violence, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), a Switzerland-based agency, chartered a ship on Sunday to evacuate hundreds of civilians and migrant workers from Misurata.

    The evacuees disembarked in the rebel stronghold, Benghazi, in the country's east.

    Bloodiest phase

    Sunday's developments followed a day of heavy fighting, shelling and explosions in the east and south of Misurata, according to residents, with doctors saying the day was one of the bloodiest in weeks.

    Mohammed El Fortia, medical director of Hakima Clinic, a 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 behind by pro-Gaddafi troops.

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

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

    Hundreds of migrant workers were evacuated from Misurata to Benghazi on Sunday [Reuters]

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

    Khalid Abu Falra, a physician at Misurata's main private clinic, told the 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.

    Some rebels in the city told the Reuters news agency on Saturday that Misurata was "free" of pro-Gaddafi forces but a rebel spokesman in Benghazi 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 - Libya's third largest city - is not known to have very large or dominant tribes, and rebels there have questioned how much support Gaddafi has among them.

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


    In other developments, NATO said an armed 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 said 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 raids smashed more than two dozen sedans and pickup vehicles  belonging to government forces about halfway between Ajdabiya and the strategic oil town of Brega, said Colonle Hamid Hassy, a rebel battalion commander, said.

    The front in the east has been stalled between Brega and Ajdabiya for weeks.

    NATO stepped into the Libyan fighting in mid-March, unleashing air attacks against Libyan military targets as part of a UN mandate to protect civilians.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and Agencies


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