By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA (Reuters) - The Red Cross said on Saturday it was extending its activities to western Libya, as a ship of medical supplies docked in the besieged port city of Misrata and its aid workers made their way to Zawiyah.
"We are sending the ship to support Misrata'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.
Its arrival came more than a week after the independent humanitarian agency began negotiations with Libyan government officials on access to western areas. "This is definitely a breakthrough," ICRC spokeswoman Nicole Engelbrecht told Reuters.
The ICRC is already deployed in rebel-held eastern territory, mainly in the cities of Benghazi and Tobruk, where it has supplied hospitals, distributed food and visited Libyan government soldiers captured during the conflict.
Aid agencies have been trying to reach civilians in western Libya, including Misrata, where residents and migrant workers have faced shortages of basic foodstuffs, a lack of medical supplies and sporadic water and electricity supplies.
Libyan rebels said on Friday they had repulsed a government assault on Misrata and a resident said five people were killed in the fighting. The lone major rebel outpost in the west of the country, about 200 km east of Tripoli, has been under siege by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi for weeks.
FOOD FOR 40,000
A vessel carrying enough food for 40,000 people for a month, chartered by the U.N.'s World Food Program (WFP), reached Misrata on Thursday.
The ICRC-chartered vessel carried 130 cubic meters of medicines and other cargo for Misrata.
It includes surgical instruments and equipment for sterilizing them, medical supplies and drugs, stretchers and blankets. Five ICRC staff were also on board to assess the situation in Misrata and needs of civilians there.
"We hope to deliver more emergency supplies in the next few days," Monod said.
ICRC and Libyan Red Crescent officials were on their way early on Saturday from Tripoli to Zawiyah, a coastal town that has been virtually off limits to aid agencies.
They will conduct an initial assessment of the humanitarian situation, focusing mainly on health care, the statement said.
Rebel forces held Zawiyah for several weeks after an anti-Gaddafi uprising erupted in Libya in mid-February but were defeated on March 10 after fierce battles. The town, about 50 km (30 miles) west of Tripoli is now under state control.
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)