BEIRUT (Reuters) - Libyan rebels reported heavy clashes in parts of Misrata on Wednesday, but said they were making progress against government troops in the besieged coastal city and had also captured a dozen enemy fighters.
On Misrata’s western outskirts, rebels pushed pro-Gaddafi forces back a further 10 km to the town of Abu Ruwayah, 25 km from Misrata, a rebel spokesman said. It was not possible to verify the claim independently.
This would still leave government troops in Misrata’s south, east and parts of its center.
“The clashes are now in Abu Ruwayah ... between Misrata and Zlitan,” said the rebel spokesman, who identified himself as Gemal Salem.
“In Tripoli Street, fighting continues and the rebels have captured at least 12 members of the Gaddafi forces. Seven of them fell in an ambush, others turned themselves in,” he said, referring to a main Misrata thoroughfare where rebels and government troops have fought repeatedly.
Misrata, along with other Libyan cities, rose up in revolt against Gaddafi’s four-decade rule in mid-February and is the last big rebel stronghold in the west of the country.
It is difficult to verify reports from Misrata because journalists are prevented from reporting freely there.
Libyan officials say they are fighting armed militia groups linked to al Qaeda who are bent on destabilizing the north African country. The rebel spokesman said there were also clashes on the Nakl al Theqeel road leading to Misrata’s port, and that “so far the rebels seem to be winning.”
Libyan television said on Wednesday that NATO planes had bombed Tripoli Street in Misrata and killed people. It gave no details. However, in Brussels a NATO official said there had been no air strikes in or near Misrata on Wednesday, although there had been strikes on two anti-aircraft weapons about 24 km south of the city.
A resident and rebel sympathizer named Ghassan said the rebels had pushed back government forces on Tripoli Street.
“After they withdrew they fired artillery at the Al-Bira neighborhood, which lies in the center near Tripoli Street,” he said. “We haven’t been able to reach the hospital to check whether there were any people killed or injured.”
In the city center, rebel fighters had surrounded a building with pro-government snipers inside, he said. “The rebels are hoping to force them to surrender when their water and food supplies run out,” Ghassan said.
Reporting by Mariam Karouny in Beirut, Joseph Nasr in Berlin and David Brunnstrom in Brussels; Writing by Richard Lough and Fredrik Dahl; editing by David Stamp