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Libyan forces kill 10 people in attack on rebel-held city

Misurata shelling continues despite recent advances

By Ben Hubbard
Associated Press / April 29, 2011

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MISURATA, Libya — Moammar Khadafy’s forces shelled civilian areas in the rebel-held city of Misurata yesterday, killing 10 people. Regime supporters and opponents battled on another front in western Libya for control of a crossing point along the Tunisian border, killing refugees as they fled.

Rockets and other artillery fire slammed into Misurata’s western Garara neighborhood, sending up deadly showers of shrapnel. At the city’s Hikma hospital, relatives shouting “God is great’’ collected the dead, each with the word “martyr’’ written in marker on their white funeral shrouds.

The two-month battle in Libya’s third-largest city has killed hundreds and prompted dire warnings of a humanitarian crisis. Khadafy’s best-trained forces are battling fiercely to try to uproot rebel fighters from their only major stronghold in the western half of Libya, which is home to the government’s power centers and the capital, Tripoli.

“Everything was normal and nothing was going on, and then all of a sudden these missiles came down and exploded in our neighborhood,’’ said 46-year-old Ali al-Ghoul, who was leaving a mosque when eight rockets struck nearby, killing five of his neighbors.

The city’s rebel fighters, most of them youths armed with captured weapons, pushed Khadafy’s forces from the city center this week, easing movement in a large swath of downtown that progovernment snipers had rendered deadly for over a month.

Yesterday, a rebel force of about 50 fighters advanced to the city’s east, killing 14 government soldiers, said Misurata’s rebel spokesman, Ibrahim Beatelmal.

Still, the city is subjected to continuous shelling with rockets and other artillery by government forces on its edges.

Rebel forces are focused on holding their newly captured areas but are preparing to move on Khadafy’s positions farther out to stop the shelling, Beatelmal said.

“All of these areas have to be cleaned out,’’ he said.

In fighting along the Tunisian border, control of the Dehiba crossing point was switching between the two sides yesterday. Rebels seized it a week ago, and government forces trying to retake it fired Grad rockets, including some that hit Tunisian soil, according to Tunisia’s state news agency.

The fighting sparked panic among refugee families who had just crossed or were trying to cross the border, said witness Mohamed Hedia, a resident of the town on the Tunisian side of the border. There was no confirmed death toll, but Hedia said the dead numbered about 20.

About 5,000 people have crossed the border from Libya during the past two days, Tunisia’s state TAP news agency reported. Many are being taken in by Tunisian families in the region or being housed in a refugee camp.

Misurata has become the focus of fighting in recent weeks, as the other key front, in the largely rebel-controlled east, has settled into a stalemate.

Yesterday, government troops shelled residential areas 12 miles from Misurata’s downtown.

“The shelling started around 9:30 this morning and has been sporadic during the day,’’ said a doctor who spoke via Skype on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Another doctor in Misurata said yesterday that a NATO airstrike killed 12 rebels in a friendly fire incident a day earlier. The military alliance, which is operating over Libya to enforce a no-fly zone and protect civilians, denied its warplanes bombed a building the rebels were said to be occupying.

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