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Misrata comes under heavy bombardment: Libya rebels

BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - Forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi bombarded Misrata on Sunday, a day after rebels celebrated the pullback of government troops from the western Libyan city, a rebel spokesman said.

“The situation is very dangerous,” rebel spokesman Abdelsalam said by telephone from Misrata. “Gaddafi’s brigades started random bombardment in the early hours of this morning. The bombardment is still going on.”

Captured government troops said on Saturday they had been ordered to retreat from Misrata -- the only major rebel-held city in western Libya -- after a siege of nearly two months, and rebels fighting to overthrow Gaddafi had claimed victory.

But the mood of victory was short-lived and the prospect of a turning point in the two-month conflict dimmed on Sunday.

Government forces bombarded three residential areas and the city center, including Tripoli Street, the thoroughfare that has been the scene of intense fighting in recent weeks, Abdelsalam said.

Rebel spokesman Safieddin said a large part of Tripoli Street was under the control of rebels, and that insurgents had launched an attack on the remaining Gaddafi forces after NATO air strikes on the city in the early hours.

Rebels have so far been unable to advance from eastern Libya as they fight with Gaddafi’s troops on the coastal road between the towns of Ajdabiyah and Brega, outgunned and lacking cash for equipment and state-building.

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Rebel leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil told a news conference in Kuwait on Sunday that the oil state would contribute 50 million Kuwaiti dinar ($177 million) to Libya’s rebel council.

Fellow Gulf Arab state Qatar, which has joined the Western military operations in Libya, has been marketing Libyan oil on behalf of the rebels to help them generate income.

An arms embargo on Libya is being enforced by NATO, but the rebels also need money to try to create the infrastructure of a state from scratch and care for victims of the conflict as they pursue their two-month-old battle to shake off Gaddafi’s rule.

“This amount will help us a lot in paying the salaries of employees who did not receive their little salaries for two months,” Abdel Jalil said. “We are capable of only covering 40 percent of this amount. We are in need of urgent aid.”


Hundreds have been killed in the fighting for Misrata, raising fears of a humanitarian crisis in the besieged city.

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Safieddin said at least 36 people had been killed there by Gaddafi’s forces since Saturday: eight during Sunday’s bombardment and 28 on Saturday, many killed by booby-traps left behind by retreating forces. More than 100 had been wounded.

A Qatari ship docked at the Tunisian port of Sousse overnight carrying 127 Libyans and 11 Tunisians from Misrata, the Tunisian state news agency said. Ninety were wounded.

Rebels in their eastern stronghold Benghazi said they had no expectations of an early end to fighting in Misrata.

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“I don’t think this is a real withdrawal,” rebel military spokesman Ahmed Bani told Reuters.

He said government loyalists might be trying to stoke tensions between Misrata and neighboring towns, and that Gaddafi’s troops might return to the city later under the guise of intervening to protect local tribes from the rebels.

Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim had said the army would “leave it to the tribes and the people around Misrata to deal with the situation, whether by using force or using negotiations.”

British Foreign Secretary William Hague told the BBC he doubted Gaddafi’s forces were really going to withdraw. “This may be cover for using more insurgent-type warfare without any uniforms and without tanks.”

Britain and France have been leading air strikes against Gaddafi’s forces in an operation mandated by the U.N. Security Council on March 17 to protect civilians in Libya.

The United States has also deployed Predator drones, using the unmanned plane for the first time on Saturday to attack the site of a multiple rocket launcher near Misrata.

Libyan state news agency Jana quoted a military source as saying the use of drones was aimed at political assassination.

Western powers have been bombing Libyan positions for more than a month. The United States, Britain and France say they will not stop their air war until Gaddafi leaves power.

JANA said on Saturday that Prime Minister al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi had spoken by telephone to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou.

While speaking with Papandreou he “reiterated Libya’s commitment to United Nations resolutions,” JANA said.

The Libyan government has repeatedly announced ceasefires, but failed to halt military operations.

Additional reporting by Tim Castle in London and Lin Noueihed in Tripoli; Writing by Myra MacDonald and Alison Williams; Editing by Kevin Liffey