Air strikes hit Gaddafi forces in Misrata-rebels

Sat Mar 26, 2011 9:15am EDT

* Rebel spokesman says shelling eases after strikes

* Pro-Gaddafi snipers in city centre: resident

* City without water, food supplies dwindling

By Lamine Chikhi and Mariam Karouny

ALGIERS/BEIRUT, March 26 (Reuters) - Forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi eased their bombardment of the rebel-held city of Misrata on Saturday after Western air strikes hit some of their positions, a rebel spokesman said.

But a resident said pro-Gaddafi snipers were still shooting at people from rooftops in the centre of the town and that the death toll during the past week had reached 115 people, including several children.

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 of the country. It has been encircled and under bombardment for weeks.

Western aircraft and missiles have been increasing their raids on government positions there -- a step the coalition says is part of its mandate, going beyond enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya and also protecting civilians from attack.

"The allied planes are in the sky above Misrata and they have bombed locations of the (pro-Gaddafi) forces in the outskirts," the spokesman, Abdelbasset Abu Mzereiq, told Reuters by telephone from Misrata.

"The shelling of Misrata has eased. There was heavy shelling earlier. We know the allied planes have made several raids and bombed several locations in the outskirts. We know they bombed an ammunition site inside the air base (south of the city)."

SNIPERS ON ROOFTOPS

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 Misrata resident, also speaking to Reuters by telephone, said pro-Gaddafi forces were still attacking civilians.

"Gaddafi's men are still controlling the eastern and western gates of the city of Misrata. Snipers continue to target civilians," said the resident, who did not give his name.

"They are located on the rooftops of buildings downtown in the city ... We've had 115 killed during the past week," he said. He said that toll included six people killed on Friday, three of whom were children.

Accounts from people inside Misrata portray a city where buildings have shell holes in their walls and 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 injured they have to operate in the corridors and people who have had limbs amputated are sent home to make room for new patients.

One video clip posted on the Internet and identified as coming from Misrata showed a children's hospital with a large hole blown in the wall and, inside, baby incubators covered in concrete dust and debris.

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. (Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by David Cowell)

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