NATO air strikes target Misurata

At least eight rebel fighters killed as Gaddafi's forces are hit south of the eastern Libyan city.

    Still grabs from an undated video of a Libyan tank destroyed by a NATO missile on Friday in Misurata [Reuters/NATO]

    Libyan rebel forces have beaten off a new assault by government troops on the besieged western city of Misurata, but lost eight of their fighters in fierce street battles.

    Mustafa Abdulrahman, a rebel spokesman, told Reuters by phone that Saturday's fighting was centred on the Nakl al-Theqeel road to Misurata port.

    He praised what he called a positive change from NATO, saying its aircraft carried out several air strikes on forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader. Rebels have complained for days that NATO is too slow and imprecise in responding to government attacks.

    Abdulrahman said NATO warplanes struck one government position on Tripoli road, a main artery that cuts through to the city centre, two sites on the coastal road and another near the western gate to the Misurata, which lies about 200 kilometres east of the capital, Tripoli.

    Canadian Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard, who commands the Libya operation, said NATO air strikes hit armored vehicles firing on civilians near both Misurata and Ajdabiya.

    Speaking in Naples, Italy, where the alliance's operational centre is located, Bouchard said on Saturday that NATO jets also struck ammunition stockpiles east of Tripoli that were being used in attacks on Misrata and other population centres.

    A NATO official speaking on condition of anonymity because of regulations told The Associated Press that warplanes had destroyed 17 tanks and damaged nine more.

    Humanitarian plan

    Al Jazeera's Anita McNaught reporting from Tripoli said the German parliament has agreed to send in troops to facilitate humanitarian mission to unspecified locations in Libya.

    "We know from both the UN and the EU side that there has been a discussion between to send in some kind of EU force, by military means or capacity if needed, to ensure the safe delivery of humanitarian aid.

    Al Jazeera's Sue Turton reports on women who have fled the embattled town of Ajdabiya

    "This is the recognition of a need to do more especially with regards the situation in Misurata where action by international forces has not been able to alleviate the siege of the city or stop the fighting with civilians caught in the crossfire," our correspondent said.

    Earlier in the day, a ship carrying medical supplies docked at the port in Misurata - the scene of fighting for more than 40 days - with badly needed supplies, as aid workers made their way towards Az Zawiyah.

    The move came as the Red Cross announced that it was extending aid services to western Libya.

    "We are sending the ship to support Misurata's main hospital, by delivering enough medical supplies to treat 300 patients with weapon injuries on the spot," Jean-Michel Monod, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) team now in Tripoli, said in a statement on Saturday.

    The ship's arrival came after more than a week of negotiations with the Libyan government in order to gain access to western cities.

    A Turkish ship also docked in Misurata to bring home Egyptians stranded in Libya's third-largest city, said Egypt's deputy foreign minister, MohammedAbdel-Hakam. A second Turkish ship was expected on Sunday.

    The Red Cross vessel is carrying 130 cubic metres of medicines and other cargo, including medical supplies, surgical equipment, drugs, stretchers and blankets. Five ICRC staff members were also on board.

    'Shaky situation'

    Al Jazeera's Hoda Abdel-Hamid, reporting from Benghazi, the stronghold of pro-democracy fighters, said the situation in Misurata was still very shaky as the port was being pounded over the past few days, forcing the opposition to shut it down.

    The aid delivery followed negotiations by Red Cross officials with the Libyan government [Reuters]

    "The port is the lifeline of Misurata and people in the east are continuing to monitor the city," our correspondent said.

    "They believe that if the opposition fails to hold on to Misurata, which is its last stronghold in the west of the country, things will become very difficult in the east."

    Meanwhile, ICRC and Libyan Red Crescent officials were on their way from Tripoli, the capital, to the western town of Az Zawiyah that has so far been virtually off limits to aid agencies.

    Az Zawiyah was held by rebels, who held off a siege from pro-Gaddafi forces, for several weeks, but eventually fell to government troops on March 10.

    On Thursday, a vessel chartered by the United Nations' World Food Programme carrying enough food to last 40,000 people for a month arrived in Misurata.

    Meanwhile, an oil tanker carrying 80,000 tons of crude oil from the rebel-held port of Marsa el Hariga entered the Suez Canal on Saturday, bound for the Red Sea, the Reuters news agency reported.

    Misurata assault

    The developments on the aid front come as rebels in Misurata repulsed a government assault on the port city on Friday, an attack that caused the deaths of at least five people.

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    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 on Friday.

    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.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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