Fighting on main Misrata street, port calm: rebel

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 20, 2011 8:22 AM
Fighting on main Misrata street, port calm: rebel

By Hamid Ould Ahmed

ALGIERS (Reuters) - Rebels said they fought pro-government troops for control of a main thoroughfare in the besieged Libyan city of Misrata Wednesday, and eight people had been killed the previous day, mostly civilians.

Libya's third-largest city, the insurgents' last major stronghold in the west of the country, has been under siege for more than seven weeks.

Hundreds of people are believed to have been killed in the city, where aid groups say the humanitarian situation is worsening with a lack of food and medical supplies.

The rebels say forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi have been bombarding the city heavily over the last week, although the situation appeared calmer Wednesday morning.

The government denies it is attacking civilians in Misrata.

"The number of martyrs for yesterday is eight, mostly civilians. More than 20 people were also wounded. Snipers remain the main threat to civilians and revolutionaries (rebels)," Abdelsalam, an insurgent spokesman, told Reuters by phone.

Another rebel representative earlier said pro-Gaddafi forces bombarded several areas of the coastal city Tuesday, but no shelling was currently taking place.

"Fighting is still going on in Tripoli Street," said Reda, who like Abdelsalam only gave his first name, referring to a main street that leads to the center from Misrata's southern outskirts.

MIGRANTS EVACUATED

The rebels "are now controlling 50 percent of the street. The other 50 percent is controlled by Gaddafi soldiers and snipers," the spokesman said.

Rebel claims of gains on the ground in recent days -- despite heavy shelling by government forces at times -- have not been verified independently.

Reda said the area near the city's port -- a rebel-held zone that is a lifeline for trapped civilians and for badly needed food and medical supplies -- was also calm and ships were able to dock.

"A Turkish ship carrying humanitarian aid arrived there about 30 minutes ago. Two Qatari ships were in yesterday. They evacuated around 1,500 Africans," Reda said, referring to migrant workers desperately trying to flee Misrata.

An international aid agency said a ship bringing humanitarian aid to Misrata was due to arrive in the port later Wednesday aiming to evacuate more stranded migrants, estimated to number around 5,000 in the port area.

"We don't know whether we will be able to reach them, however," said Jeremy Haslam of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in a statement. "If they are not close to the port, then it will be extremely hard to access them given the security conditions in the city."

The Geneva-based aid agency -- which said it had evacuated 2,100 people from Misrata in two earlier such missions -- said the Ionian Spirit ship carried 500 tones of food, medical supplies, and other aid as well as a team of 13 doctors.

(Writing by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Sophie Hares)