May 23, 2011 / 10:30 AM / 6 years ago

Gaddafi forces shell west, south Misrata - rebels

MISRATA, May 23 (Reuters) - Forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi shelled neighbourhoods in the west and south of the Libyan city of Misrata on Monday, a rebel spokesman and a witness said, adding that explosions were also heard in the port area.

Rebels say they have pushed Gaddafi's forces 25 km (15 miles) from the centre of the city after weeks of street fighting and bombardment.

Rebel spokesman Abdelsalam told Reuters said Gaddafi's forces were trying to advance from the west, under the cover of Grad rockets and mortar shells, toward Misrata, scene of the some of the fiercest fighting since the uprising began in mid-February.

Shelling began at around 8 a.m., he said.

He said rebel forces were blocking the advance for the moment, but were coming under heavy pressure from the shelling and the presence of at least two tanks of the front line.

Abdelsalam said one rebel had been killed. The body of rebel fighter Youssef al-Aidi was brought from the frontline to Hekmat Hospital in Misrata.

Aidi has been hit in the head by an RPG rocket from 25 km west of Misrata, where a column of five Gaddafi tanks and some 50 men had advanced on the rebels' position.

A rebel fighter with Aidi said Gaddafi forces had been bombing the rebels' frontline with tank shells and Grad rockets since 5 a.m. The rebels say fighting there has been static for about two weeks.

"We're fighting defensively here, we're not pushing forward. We're waiting for our brothers in Zlitan to call us. They have their own uprising there," said Taha al-Golib.

Zlitan lies some 40 km west of Misrata and is held by Gaddafi's forces.

"It is difficult to see how Gaddafi forces can re-enter Misrata because the rebels have good defence lines and NATO aircraft are always overhead," Abdelsalam said.

"But they are definitely trying. The rebels are 10-15 km away from Zlitan and Gaddafi's forces feel they have to do something."

"Their strategy is to keep Misrata on the edge, to sow terror," Abdelsalam said. "Gaddafi doesn't want the residents or the freedom fighters in Misrata to breathe a sigh of relief."

A second witness in the city confirmed heavy shelling in the Dafinia region, 30 km to the west of the city centre, and reported explosions in the port area. He said rebels clashed with Gaddafi forces in Dafinia on Sunday, destroying a tank. (Reporting by Joseph Nasr and Mohammed Abbas; Writing by Jan Harvey)

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