Gaddafi forces push towards Ajdabiya, 5 killed in Misurata

Last Updated: Saturday, April 9, 2011 - 18:43

Tripoli: Muammar Gaddafi`s forces on Saturday
pushed ahead towards the eastern town of Ajdabiya, the gateway
to the opposition stronghold of Benghazi, as five people were
killed in heavy fighting for the western city of Misurata
which lies encircled by government troops.

After forcing the rebels to retreat from the oil town
of Brega, Gaddafi`s tanks and heavy artillery are pushing
ahead to retake Ajdabiya which lies midway between Brega and
Benghazi.

On the western front, Libyan rebels claimed to have
pushed back an advance by Gaddafi`s forces into Misurata, with
five people killed in the fighting for the besieged city.

Fierce street fighting was witnessed as Gaddafi`s
forces mounted an assault on the eastern part of the port city
that is the only major rebel stronghold in the west of the
country.

Reports from the east said rebel fighters came under
heavy artillery fire from the advancing government forces in
of Ajdabiya.

The last few weeks have seen a military stalemate grow
in the east with both sides advancing and retreating across
enemy lines. Coming under heavy shelling, the rebels had
retreated from the outskirts of Brega and were struggling to
hold their ground.

In Ajdabiya as well, intense artillery fire was making
lives difficult for the rebels.

Misurata has been the centre of a weeks-long siege
with the rebels managing to hold out to their major western
post in the face of an advancing Libyan military in other
parts of the country.

Severe shortages of food, water and medical supplies
are being experienced by the besieged people and hospitals are
overflowing with patients, Al Jazeera reported.

Terrified people are crammed into the few remaining
safe districts -- five families to a house -- to escape
incessant mortar and rocket fire.

A resident was quoted as saying that five people were
killed and 10 others were wounded in the fighting today.
A rebel spokesman said government troops had advanced
on the heavily populated Esqeer district in an effort to
loosen the rebels` grip on Misurata.

He said the attack had been repelled and the forces
pushed back for now.

With the situation in Libya descending into a
stalemate, international voices are growing in favour of
seeking a ceasefire and a political solution.

A group of African Union leaders, including South
African President Jacob Zuma, will visit Libya this weekend
and meet representatives of both sides.

The South African foreign ministry said that the AU
panel will meet Gaddafi in Tripoli and rebel leaders in
Benghazi to seek an immediate end to the conflict.
The panel, which includes leaders of Congo, Mali,
Mauritania, South Africa and Uganda, had been scheduled to
visit Libya last month but had to cancel the trip after
failing to obtain permission to enter the country as Western
nations began implementing a no-fly zone.

Before starting their visit to Libya, the leaders will
first meet in Mauritania.

Meanwhile, weapons depots belonging to Gaddafi`s
forces near the town of Zintan were hit by NATO air strikes
yesterday, and residents said they saw the buildings on fire.

Al Jazeera said rebels at the western boundary of
Ajdabiya, still jittery after the friendly fire accident, fled
from an artillery bombardment though there was no immediate
sign of a government advance.

The NATO strikes have not done much to help the rebel
advance as was being hoped earlier and NATO leaders have
acknowledged the limits of their air power particularly with
Gaddafi`s forces tactics of placing their weaponry in the
middle of civilian areas.

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rassmussen expressed regret
over the deaths in the rebel camp by an alliance air strike,
terming the incident as "unfortunate".

"The situation on the ground is very fluid," Rasmussen
said. "We have seen in the past that tanks have been used by
the Gaddafi regime to attack civilians."

PTI



First Published: Saturday, April 9, 2011 - 18:43

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