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Libya's rebel-held Misrata on alert for new attack

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 21, 2011 11:27 AM
Libya's rebel-held Misrata on alert for new attack

By Mariam Karouny

TUNIS (Reuters) - Rebels in Misrata, the last big opposition stronghold in western Libya, said they were preparing for a new attack on Thursday and rejected reported offers from the government to negotiate their surrender.

The city of 300,000, about 200 km (130 miles) east of Tripoli, faced contradictory claims from Muammar Gaddafi's government -- one that it would attack soon and another that it would stop fighting to let rebels give themselves up.

Loyalist forces launched an attack on Wednesday on Misrata, but rebels said they fought back and seized some tanks from the pro-Gaddafi units. The attack coincided with the army's advance on the opposition capital Benghazi in the east of the country.

A doctor at Misrata hospital said the death toll from Wednesday's fighting had risen from 11 to 18, with 42 wounded.

"There were two more rounds of shelling last night," said Saadoun, a resident, on Thursday. "But things are quiet so far. We are hearing that tanks are moving ... We believe they will attack the city again," he told Reuters by telephone.

"We are not sure if they will do it right now or if they will wait for more reinforcement from Tripoli," he said. "The city is still under the control of the people of Misrata."

Al Arabiya television reported that the armed forces had said they would stop military operations on Sunday to give rebels a chance to surrender. It gave no further details.

Asked about this, a Misrata rebel who asked not to be named said there were no such negotiations going on. "He will not allow anybody to leave peacefully and we do not want to leave," he said. "We will die on the battlefield."

'CAN'T TRUST GADDAFI'

Anti-Gaddafi forces could not trust any truce offer, the rebel said. "We are sure that he will kill whoever surrenders ... when he says something like that we do not trust him. This is part of a psychological war he is launching."

He and fellow fighters believed Gaddafi's army was exhausted and running low on fuel. "That is why he is calling for this," the rebel said. "He wants his army to recharge before he can send it back again to kill people."

In Tripoli, a government spokesman said the city was almost entirely under the control of pro-Gaddafi forces and the military operation there should be over by Friday morning.

"The first stage -- besieging the city, then slowly moving in to squeeze them into a small place and then allowing a corridor so people can escape -- is finished," said the spokesman, Mussa Ibrahim.

"Now is the final stage. Local volunteers are clearing the streets from (rebel) snipers, they are checking that all the mosques are safe."

The Misrata rebel dismissed this as "pure lies and propaganda only."

Abdulbasset, the Misrata rebels' spokesman who gave only his first name, said pro-Gaddafi snipers had taken positions on the roofs of several houses on the southern side of the city.

"People are still inside these houses. This puts us in a difficult position when we are fighting," he said.

(Additional reporting by Maria Golovnina in Tripoli; Writing by Christian Lowe, Mariam Karouny and Tom Heneghan; Editing by Janet Lawrence)