Gaddafi forces kill 18 civilians in Misrata; blockade ends

Port opens for aid shipments; rebels begin fighting government forces in Brega, spokesman says; Gaddafi forces shell Misrata, killing civilians.

By REUTERS
March 30, 2011 19:31
3 minute read.
Libyan rebels with anti-aircraft gun

Libyan rebels with anti-aircraft gun 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Andrew Winning)

 
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ALGIERS - Muammar Gaddafi's forces killed 18 civilians in the city of Misrata on Tuesday and Libyan government troops fired tank shells and fought skirmishes with rebels on Wednesday, a rebel spokesman said.

But a blockade of Misrata's Mediterranean port by pro-Gaddafi forces ended, allowing two ships to deliver humanitarian aid and evacuate people wounded in the fighting, the spokesman told Reuters by telephone.

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Misrata, Libya's third-largest city, is the only big rebel stronghold left in the west of the country. Residents say it has been under siege for weeks by pro-Gaddafi forces and that dozens of people have been killed.

"Yesterday was a difficult day. Eighteen civilians were killed," said the spokesman, called Mohammed. Rebels previously said nine civilians had been killed in fighting on Tuesday.

"There are skirmishes today. Tanks bombard the city every now and then," said Mohammed. "Snipers are still positioned in Tripoli Street (in the center of Misrata)."

But he said the main body of the pro-Gaddafi forces had not been able to enter the city center. "They are encircling it," Mohammed said.

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Reports from Misrata, which is 200 km (130 miles) east of Tripoli, could not be verified independently because Libyan officials have prevented journalists from reporting freely from the city.

Later on Wednesday, Libyan state television broadcast what it said were live images from Misrata showing a small pro-Gaddafi crowd of men chanting and waving flags.

Rebels pick up fight in Brega

Libyan rebels are fighting Muammar Gaddafi's forces in the town of Brega, a rebel spokesman said on Wednesday, repeating a call for foreign powers to support anti-Gaddafi forces with arms supplies and air strikes.

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Ahmad Bani, a rebel military spokesman in the rebel-held city of Benghazi, said rebels pulled back after a recent string of gains in the face of Gaddafi's better-equipped army.

"Fighting is now under way at Brega and Ajdabiyah will be a new defence point," Bani said. "We are seeking weapons that will be able to destroy the heavy weapons they are using against us such as tanks and artillery."

Bani said civilians were under threat and that Western warplanes enforcing a U.N. resolution aimed at defending civilians should therefore "take out" Gaddafi's forces.

Misrata port opens for aid

The rebel spokesman said shortages of food and medical supplies had been eased after aid ships docked at the Mistrata port, which, residents said, had until this week been blockaded by the pro-Gaddafi navy and coastguard vessels.

The US Navy's Sixth Fleet said on Tuesday it had attacked three Libyan ships near Misrata to stop them firing at merchant ships at the port.

"The port is totally open now. It is ready to receive any aid," the rebel spokesman said. "One ship from Tunisia and another from Malta came in yesterday with food. The Tunisian ship took about 100 wounded people for treatment."

John Drake, senior risk consultant with UK-based security firm AKE, citing sources in Misrata, said vessels could enter the port there but it was hazardous because of the fighting.

"An aid vessel arrived at the harbor at around 1200 local time today with medical provisions on board," he said.

"The main violence is located in the town, whereas the harbor is a little to the east, although it was subjected to artillery fire a few days ago."

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