Libyan rebels push toward Brega while govt forces bombard Misrata

Updated: 2011-04-18 08:04

By Michael Georgy (China Daily)

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Libyan rebels push toward Brega while govt forces bombard Misrata

An evacuee from Bangladesh waits for his luggage at a Red Crescent camp in Benghazi, Libya, on Saturday. An aid ship brought nearly 1,200 evacuees to the eastern city of Benghazi late on Friday, just a fraction of those stranded in the besieged city of Misrata. [Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters]

AJDABIYAH, Libya - Libyan rebels pushed toward the strategic oil port of Brega while government forces pounded besieged Misrata to the west with rockets and mortars.

Rebels said government forces were ensconced in the center of Brega, often inside houses, while insurgent fighters were more exposed.

"We have people on the edge of Brega, we control that area only. Nothing has changed inside Brega," said Mohammed el-Misrati, after returning to Ajdabiyah to the east on Saturday.

Government forces have been bombing the road from Ajdabiyah, 80 km east of Brega, for several days, sometimes firing from a distance, sometimes approaching in cars.

Six rebels were killed and 16 wounded when government forces fired rockets at a group of insurgents driving along the exposed coastal highway westward from Ajdabiyah.

"We were in our vehicles and they opened fire with rockets," said one of the men hit in Saturday's attack, groaning in pain in Ajdabiyah hospital.

Outside, medics gathered blood-soaked bandages and scrubbed stretchers clean of blood.

Ajdabiyah, once a bustling city of 100,000, has become a ghost town, with most residents fleeing the fighting.

At the town's western entrance, a group of rebels triumphantly drove a pick-up truck through a checkpoint, saying they had commandeered it from government forces on the Brega road.

The United States, France and Britain said they will not stop bombing government forces until Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi leaves power, effectively revising the mission's aim to regime change.

But the air campaign has failed to alleviate the siege of Misrata, the rebels' only major stronghold in the west of the country, cut off by government forces for seven weeks, where hundreds of civilians are believed to have died.

A rebel spokesman, Gemal Salem, said government forces pounded the town with rockets and mortars on Saturday, targeting a dairy factory and another that makes cooking oil.

"The (government) forces are still firing mortars at residential areas. There are clashes in Tripoli Street. Three people were killed today," Salem, the rebel spokesman, said, referring to Misrata's main thoroughfare.

Another rebel spokesman said government forces fired at least 100 Grad rockets into the city early on Saturday, targeting an industrial area close to the port where thousands of migrants are stranded and awaiting evacuation.

"The (government) forces have focused their shelling on that area in the past few days because they want to scare away ships bringing aid or aiming to evacuate migrants," Abdelbasset Abu Mzereiq said.



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