TRIPOLI- At least 18 people, including a baby, were killed in fighting between forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and rebels in the town of Misrata on Sunday, a doctor told Reuters by phone.

"We have 18 martyrs but the figure is not final. We also have many people wounded, I cannot even count them," said the doctor, who works at Misrata main hospital.

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He said the dead included rebels and civilians.

Libyan rebels beat back an attack by forces loyal to Gaddafi on the town of Misrata on Sunday, residents told Reuters.

Government forces used tanks and artillery in what appeared to be their most concerted effort yet to retake the town, 200 km (125 miles) east of the capital Tripoli, but were pushed back by rebels fighting Gaddafi's 41-year old rule.

"The (pro-Gaddafi) brigades tried to reach the center of the town but revolutionaries managed to repel them. They (the brigades) retreated to the airbase," said one resident, who did not want to give his name, said.

"The revolutionaries captured 20 soldiers and seized a tank. The town is now fully in the control of the youths."

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Misrata is the largest population center controlled by Gaddafi opponents outside the rebel-held east of the country.

If rebel soldiers are able to continue their fitful advance westwards, Misrata could be a stepping stone to reaching the capital, Gaddafi's principal stronghold.

Witnesses in Misrata, which has been under rebel control for over a week, earlier said the government attack was led by units of a militia led by Khamis, a son of the Libyan leader.

"Very, very heavy fighting is taking place now at the western entrance of the town. The fighting started about an hour ago after an attack by brigades belonging to Khamis," resident Mohamed said by telephone.

"They are destroying everything they find. They are using artillery and tanks," he said.

A spokesman for the rebel force in Misrata, who gave his name as Gemal, had earlier said the attackers' tanks reached the center of Misrata in the morning.

"There's heavy fighting taking place. We will push them back," he said.

Until now there have only been skirmishes on the outskirts of the city, with residents reporting occasional outbreaks of fighting around the airport, and at an air base near the city.

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