TUNIS (Reuters) – Eight people were killed when forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi resumed attacks on rebel-held Misrata on Sunday, ending a brief lull in fighting following Western air strikes, rebels and a resident said.
Pro-Gaddafi forces had eased their attacks on Misrata on Saturday after Western coalition planes appeared in the skies and hit some of their positions, rebels said.
A rebel said fighting between pro-Gaddafi forces and rebels had raged all day Sunday before stopping in the evening. Misrata resident Saadoun said eight people were killed and 24 wounded as pro-Gaddafi forces fired mortars when advancing from the west.
“A massacre has been committed. The Gaddafi forces which were trying to advance to the city fired mortars and killed at least eight,” he said by phone.
“24 people are wounded, most of them are in critical condition and they lost body parts.”
Misrata is the only big rebel stronghold left in the west of Libya and it is cut off from the main rebel force fighting Gaddafi’s troops in the east. It has been encircled and under bombardment for weeks.
A rebel, called Sami, earlier said that pro-Gaddafi forces fought with rebels in the center of Misrata.
“All day long we heard clashes between rebels and Gaddafi forces in the area of Tripolistreet, in the city center,” he said. “We heard tanks, mortars and light weapons being used.”
Rebel spokesman Abdulbasset Abu Mzereiq said pro-Gaddafi forces tried to enter the city from the northwest, using tanks and armored vehicles. Mohammed, a rebel, later said fighting stopped in the evening.
He said pro-Gaddafi forces controlled “only one small area, a couple of streets” in the western part of the city.
“99 percent of the city is under our control,” he said.
Western aircraft and missiles have been increasing their raids on government positions in Misrata. French warplanes destroyed five Libyan military planes and two helicopters at Misrata air base, France’s armed forces said on Saturday.
“The air strikes are helping us. They dealt a blow to Gaddafi’s forces and we feel relatively safe,” Sami said.
“The rebels want to press ahead with their assault and force Gaddafi’s men out of the city all together. But we need more time because of the snipers positioned on rooftops.
Sami said one person had been killed from sniper fire on Saturday.
The reports from Misrata, Libya’s third-biggest city about 200 km (130 miles) east of Tripoli, could not be verified.
Libyan officials say the rebels are armed gangs linked to al Qaeda who are holding the people of the city hostage.
A written newsflash on Libyan state television said “anti-terrorism units have arrested terrorist gangs that have been sowing fear among civilians in Misrata.” It said the city was “now safe and life there has returned to normal.”
Accounts from people in Misrata portray a city where the sound of artillery fire and automatic weapons rings out every few minutes. Doctors at the clinic being used as a makeshift hospital say they are so overwhelmed by the numbers of wounded they have to operate in the corridors and people who have had limbs amputated are sent home to make room for new patients.
Misrata residents also say they are facing a humanitarian crisis with dwindling food, and water supplies and electricity now cut off. Libyan officials deny deliberately cutting power and water to the city.
Aid agencies were able to bring in supplies via Misrata’s Mediterranean port earlier this week but it is uncertain if they can deliver more because control over the port has see-sawed between the rebels and pro-Gaddafi forces.
(Reporting by Mariam Karouny in Beirut and Joseph Nasr in Berlin; Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian)
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