By Souhail Karam
RABAT (Reuters) - Forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi are mounting an intense artillery bombardment of rebel-held Misrata and pro-Gaddafi troops are attacking shops and homes in the city center, a rebel spokesman said.
Misrata is the last big rebel stronghold in western Libya but after weeks of shelling and encirclement, government forces appear to be gradually loosening the rebels' hold on the city, despite Western air strikes on pro-Gaddafi targets there.
"They used tanks, rocket-propelled grenades, mortar rounds and other projectiles to hit the city today. It was a random and very intense bombardment," the spokesman, called Sami, told Reuters by telephone. "We no longer recognize the place. The destruction cannot be described."
"The pro-Gaddafi soldiers who made it inside the city through Tripoli Street are pillaging the place, the shops, even homes, and destroying everything in the process."
"They are targeting everyone, including civilians' homes. I don't know what to say, may Allah help us," he said.
Accounts from Misrata, Libya's third biggest city about 200 km (130 miles) east of Tripoli, could not be independently verified because Libyan authorities have not allowed journalist to report freely from the city.
A resident in the city told Reuters in an email that the 32nd Brigade, one of the best-equipped and trained units in the Libyan armed forces, had been sent in to Misrata early Friday with the aim of occupying the city.
"So the question is where is the international community?" he said.
(Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Myra MacDonald)