Tue, May 03, 2011 - Page 1 News List

Qaddafi’s tanks probe rebel city of Misrata

LAST BASTION:The city is the rebel’s last stronghold in the western part of the country and has been under siege for six weeks, but Qaddafi’s forces looked poised to retake it

AFP, MISRATA, Libya

Rebel fighters man a checkpoint on Sunday in the outskirts of Ajdabiya, Libya.

Photo: AFP

Forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi launched a new armored incursion into the besieged rebel city of Misrata yesterday ahead of the funeral of his son, killed in a NATO-led air strike.

Reporters heard heavy shelling throughout the morning as loyalist tanks thrust into the western suburbs of Libya’s third largest city.

At least four people were killed and about 30 wounded in the fighting, medical sources said. Clashes overnight had killed another six and wounded dozens more.

“The tanks are in al-Ghiran et Zawiyat al-Mahjub and have been halted by our men,” a rebel commander said.

Reporters heard one or more NATO aircraft flying over the city for more than two hours in the late morning, but no air strikes were heard.

The few residents who ventured out expressed exasperation at the lack of a military response from the Western alliance to Qaddafi’s armor.

“NATO has to help us. What are they waiting for?” one resident in his 40s asked.

Unlike on previous days of the more than six-week-long siege, the resident declined to give his name, an indication of the mounting fear in the city that Qaddafi’s forces are poised to retake it.

“We have seven intensive care beds, but at the moment there are eight who need them,” a medic in the city’s main hospital said.

The last major rebel bastion in western Libya, Misrata is surrounded by pro-Qaddafi forces and entirely dependent on supply by sea.

Loyalist troops have repeatedly pounded the port, killing two rebel fighters on Sunday alone, witnesses said.

In the capital, preparations were under way for the afternoon funerals of Qaddafi’s second youngest son Seif al-Arab, and three of his grandchildren.

Libyan government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim told reporters early on Sunday that the house of Qaddafi’s son “was attacked tonight with full power.”

The children killed were a boy and a girl, both aged two, and a baby girl of four months, he added.

Demonstrators torched vacant British and Italian diplomatic buildings in Tripoli in response, prompting Britain to expel the Libyan ambassador.

Italy boosted security checks on Sunday when Qaddafi threatened to “bring the battle to Italy” after the Rome government’s decision to join the NATO-led air strikes.

However, yesterday, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi sought to play down the threats which he attributed to Qaddafi’s “disappointment” in Italy, Libya’s former colonial ruler.

Turkey closed its embassy in Tripoli late on Sunday following the attacks on the British and Italian diplomatic missions, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said.

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