Rebels repel assault on Misurata

The latest developments come as EU gears up to deploy military assets for a humanitarian mission in the besieged city.

    Government troops in Misurata reportedly failed to retake an eastern neighbourhood on Friday [AFP]

    Libyan rebels have said they had repulsed a government assault on the besieged western port city of Misurata and a resident said five people were killed in the fighting.

    Misurata, a lone major rebel outpost in the west of the country, has been under siege by Gaddafi's forces for weeks.

    On Friday, rebels said they had pushed back an assault on the eastern flank of the coastal city after fierce street battles.

    A Misurata resident called Ghassan told Reuters: "Medics at the hospital told us that five people were killed today and 10 others were wounded. We were at the hospital and we talked to medics."

    A rebel spokesman said government troops had advanced on the heavily populated Esqeer district in an effort to loosen the rebels' grip on Misurata, where families are crammed together in the few remaining safe districts.

    "The attack from the east has been repelled now and the [pro-Gaddafi] forces have been pushed back," rebel spokesman Hassan al-Misrati told Reuters by telephone.

    Rebels say people in Misurata are crammed five families to a house in the few safe districts, to escape weeks of sniper, mortar and rocket fire. There are severe shortages of food, water and medical supplies and hospitals are overflowing.

    Weapons depot hit

    NATO air strikes hit weapons depots belonging to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's forces near the town of Zintan on Friday, a resident said.

    "The depots are situated 15km southeast of Zintan. We could see buildings on fire in the distance," the resident, called Abdulrahman, said by phone.

    The only active front in the war, along the Mediterranean coast around the eastern towns of Brega and Ajdabiya, has descended into a desultory stalemate with both sides making advances and then retreating behind secure lines.

    Al Jazeera's Hoda Abdel-Hamid reports from Brega
    on how the rebels are struggling to hold their ground

    On Friday, rebels at the western boundary of Ajdabiya, still jittery after the friendly fire accident, fled from an artillery bombardment but there was no sign of a government advance.

    Ahmed Ignashy, a doctor at Ajdabiya hospital, said about six rebels were wounded in skirmishes 20 km west.

    Early hopes that air attacks on Gaddafi forces would tip the balance in favour of the rebels had evaporated and Western leaders were emphasising a political solution.

    NATO leaders acknowledged the limits of their air power, which has caused rather than broken a military stalemate.

    Alliance officials expressed frustration that Gaddafi's tactics of sheltering his armour in civilian areas had reduced the effects of air supremacy and apologised for a "friendly fire" incident on Thursday in which rebels said five fighters were killed.

    NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen took a similar line to Ham on Friday.  "There is no military solution only. We need a political solution," he told Al Jazeera.

    NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu spoke of the difficulties facing alliance pilots because of Gaddafi's tactics.

    "The fact is they are using human shields and parking tanks next to mosques and schools so it is very hard to pinpoint any military hardware without causing civilian casualties," she said.

    It was the second time in less than a week that rebels had blamed NATO for bombing their comrades by mistake after 13 were killed in an air strike not far from the same spot on Saturday.

    EU humanitarian mission

    The European Union is gearing up to deploy military assets for a humanitarian mission to evacuate the wounded from Misurata and deliver food, water and medicine, diplomats said.

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    Pressing the United Nations to green light a humanitarian mission, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton sent a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon saying the 27-nation bloc was ready to come to the aid of Misurata.

    Ashton told Ban that the EU was prepared to mobilise all means at its disposal, including military ones, to ensure the aid gets to the population and offered to coordinate international efforts, a European diplomat said.

    "Everyone knows that we must do something and in the coming days we will have a large mobilisation of the international community," a high-ranking European diplomat said earlier on condition of anonymity.

    "The United Nations is realising the gravity of the humanitarian situation ... and could be compelled to call in the European Union in the coming days," he said.

    AU action

    The African Union is also planning to act in Libya in the coming days. A group of African leaders will visit Libya this weekend and meet with both sides in the country's deepening conflict to demand an immediate ceasefire, the South African foreign ministry said on Friday.

    South African President Jacob Zuma and other leaders from a high-level African Union panel will first meet in Mauritania on Saturday, then travel to Libya to meet with Gaddafi in Tripoli and rebel leaders in Benghazi to seek an end to the conflict.

    "The committee has been granted permission by NATO to enter Libya and to meet in Tripoli with the Libyan leader. The AU delegation will also meet with the Interim Transitional National Council in Benghazi on 10 and 11 April 2011," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

    "Key on the agenda of both meetings will be the immediate implementation of a ceasefire from both sides and the opening of a political dialogue between the two parties."

    The panel, which includes the leaders of Congo, Mali, Mauritania, South Africa and Uganda, had been scheduled to visit Libya last month but had to cancel the trip after failing to obtain permission to enter the country as Western nations began implementing a no-fly zone.

    Their visit comes after AU chairman Teodoro Obiang Nguema on Tuesday condemned foreign military intervention in Ivory Coast and Libya, saying that Africa must be allowed to manage its own affairs.     

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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