BEIRUT/RABAT (Reuters) - Rebels in Misrata said they killed 30 government snipers on Thursday and had liberated the port from forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, potentially opening up an aid lifeline to the besieged city.
Libya’s government said it controlled the city, 200 km east of Tripoli, and blamed the fighting on al Qaeda affiliates.
“There were clashes today and our fighters managed to find a way to reach the snipers on rooftops and killed 30 of them,” rebel spokesman Abdulbasset Abu Mzereiq said by telephone.
He said rebels had also blown up the staircases of buildings being used by other snipers, stranding them on the rooftops.
He said the rebels regained control of the port after Gaddafi loyalists seized it on Wednesday, closing off Misrata’s access to food and medical supplies and stranding thousands of African migrant workers who had been hoping to leave by sea.
“The warships and the boats are gone now and the coalition forces have informed the (rebel) council that they will secure a safe passage for ships that are coming from Malta carrying aid,” the spokesman said, adding the aid was from Libyans living abroad.
Mahmoud Hesham, manager of the Farwa Shipping Agency in Misrata, said earlier that losing the port would pose a grave danger. “It means no food can come to the city,” said Hesham, following the situation from Britain after leaving Misrata two weeks ago.
Abu Mzereiq said snipers had killed three rebels and that rebels had advanced toward the center of Misrata. “The rebels’ movement is better now and they have advanced toward the center and reached the center for the first time since Friday.”
Duccio Staderini, of Medecins Sans Frontieres, said his group had managed to bring in a medical aid shipment by boat on Monday and hoped to bring in more aid.
International aid officials have expressed concern about medical conditions in Misrata, where a clinic under fire was struggling to provide medical care in clinics as the city’s main hospital has long been closed for repairs.
Electricity, water and landline phones have been cut. The government said earlier on Thursday the outages had been caused by technical problems because of damage and looting.
An amateur video on YouTube which described a clip as being from a medical clinic in Misrata showed a destroyed exterior wall in one of what appeared to be an examination room, with a gash of about a meter in height.
Government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim told reporters in Tripoli: “In Misrata, we have total control of the city.”
“Unfortunately, there is a hard core of violence. These people are al Qaeda affiliates, they are prepared to die, they want to die, because death for them is happiness, is paradise. They know they are going to die.”
Western air strikes destroyed government tanks on the outskirts of Misrata late on Wednesday but tanks inside the country’s third largest city have not been hit, the rebel spokesman said earlier.
“Some tanks on the coastal road were bombed last night at around 6 p.m. (1600 GMT) but the tanks inside the city, in the center ... which were bombing the city, are still there and were not attacked,” Abu Mzereiq said.
Reports from the city could not be verified independently because Libyan authorities have prevented journalists from going there and the severing of local phone lines have further complicated the ability to communicate with local residents.
Additional reporting by Maria Golovnina in Tripoli; Editing by Alison Williams