Libya Fighting Intensifies As Siege Of Misrata Sees Bloodiest Fighting In Months

04/25/2011 06:51 pm ET | Updated Jun 25, 2011

ALGIERS (Reuters) – Rebels and residents of Misrata said bodies lay scattered in the streets of the city and medics struggled to cope with the wounded on Monday after some of the bloodiest fighting of a two-month-old siege.

People emerged from homes after daybreak to scenes of devastation after Muammar Gaddafi's forces pulled back from the city under cover of blistering rocket and tank fire, said witnesses contacted by phone.

Nearly 60 people have been killed in clashes in the last three days including at least 10 on Monday, residents said.

Mohammed Ibrahim, a local resident who visited the city's hospital, told Reuters by telephone that seven of those killed on Monday were civilians and three were rebel fighters.

Three corpses were charred beyond recognition from the overnight shelling. A 10-year-old boy was killed as he slept. But many shells fell on waste ground, residents said. They said the bombardment stopped when NATO planes flew over.

"Bodies of Gaddafi's troops are everywhere in the streets and in the buildings. We can't tell how many. Some have been there for days," said Ibrahim, whose cousin was killed at the weekend.

Footage posted on the Internet taken by rebels showed at least five abandoned tanks, large-scale destruction and the bodies of three Gaddafi soldiers lying in the streets.

Gaddafi's forces said they were pulling back from Misrata late last week to hand over to local tribal forces, saying that NATO strikes had taken a toll on them.

Within hours, Misrata suffered some of the fiercest fighting of a siege in which hundreds of civilians have been killed and which has made the city a symbol of resistance to Gaddafi.

BATTLES CONTINUE

Rebel spokesman Abdelsalam, speaking late on Monday, said Gaddafi's forces were trying to re-enter the Nakl Thaqeel Road, which leads to the port.

"Battles continue there. We can hear explosions," he said by phone, adding Gaddafi's forces positioned on the western outskirts of the city had also shelled it from there.

Residents said loyalist forces had been pushed from Tripoli Street, a central thoroughfare that has seen intense fighting, to the outskirts of the city, from where they were shelling occasionally when NATO planes were not around.

Asked whether rebel celebrations of victory on Saturday had been premature, Abdelsalam said: "We knew from the start that they only withdrew from the city to prepare for a new attack."

Misrata is the only major western city in rebel hands and if troops were pushed back it would be a significant setback.
At Misrata's main hospital, doctors struggled to treat scores of wounded.

Another rebel spokesman, Sami, said the humanitarian situation was worsening rapidly.

"It is indescribable. The hospital is very small. It is full of wounded people, most of them are in critical condition," he told Reuters by phone.

"The quantity of food available in the city is also decreasing. The state of the city is deteriorating because it has been under siege for about two months."

(Additional reporting by Joseph Nasr in Berlin; writing by Matthew Tostevin and Barbara Lewis; editing by Maria Golovnina)

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