Rebels repel twin government offensives in Misrata

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 12, 2011 1:19 PM
Rebels repel twin government offensives in Misrata

By Mariam Karouny and Souhail Karam

BEIRUT/RABAT (Reuters) - Libyan government artillery bombarded the besieged city of Misrata on Tuesday and rebels said they had beaten back two separate offensives by troops loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Misrata, along with other cities, rose up in revolt against Gaddafi's four-decade rule in mid-February and is the last big rebel stronghold in the west of the country.

"There was heavy fighting in Tripoli Street and the rebels held their positions. Also, very intense fighting occurred on the eastern side of Misrata on the Nak el Theqeel road. The rebels repelled the attack," a rebel spokesman who identified himself as Mohamad Abu Shaara told Reuters by telephone.

Tripoli Road is a main thoroughfare that cuts through to the city center from the western outskirts while the Nak el Theqeel road leads to Misrata's rebel-controlled port.

Shaara said there were casualties but gave no further details.

Libyan officials say they are fighting armed militia groups linked to al Qaeda who are bent on destabilizing the north African country. It is difficult to verify reports from Misrata because journalists are prevented from reporting freely there.

WESTERN MOUNTAINS

A rebel spokesman in Zintan, another town in western Libya which has been under attack by Gaddafi's forces, said there had been a new bombardment.

"The pro-Gaddafi forces located north of the town fired mortar rounds from pick-up trucks at Zintan. Fortunately only one person was wounded in the attack," the spokesman, Abdulrahman, told Reuters by telephone.

"It's been mostly random firing as the town is perched 750 meters above sea level and the pro-Gaddafi forces are in the foothills of the mountains."

Zintan is in the Western Mountains region, a sparsely populated area inhabited by ethnic Berbers, many of whom rose up against Gaddafi's rule.

Residents of the region who fled to neighboring Tunisia have told Reuters that government forces are waging a campaign of terror there, destroying homes, killing livestock and threatening to rape women.

The spokesman said Gaddafi's forces, unable to get into the town of Zintan itself, were targeting people in nearby villages and rounding up anyone suspected of links to the rebels.

"In the nearby hamlet of al-Ghnayma, the pro-Gaddafi forces have since Saturday been singling out civilians originating from Zintan," he said.

"They have arrested 15 in total and released them later after finding out they had nothing to do with the rebels."

"But they have, up to today, burned down the homes of about 40 to 50 families (originally) from Zintan who live in al-Ghnayma and have also been poisoning their water wells by pouring in fuel and ... engine oil."

Zintan itself was suffering from an increasingly acute shortage of water, the spokesman said.

"Zintan relies on water from the foothills of the mountains. But with the fuel shortage, tanker trucks cannot go there and even if they had fuel they'd run the risk of being attacked by Gaddafi forces controlling that position," said Abdulrahman.

(Writing by Richard Lough and Christian Lowe; editing by Tim Pearce)