Rebels: pro-Gaddafi forces step up attack on Misrata

Mon Apr 11, 2011 5:09pm GMT

By Hamid Ould Ahmed and Mariam Karouny

ALGIERS/BEIRUT (Reuters) - Rebels in the Libyan city of Misrata scorned reports Muammar Gaddafi had agreed to a ceasefire on Monday after his forces fired rockets on the city and fought intense house-to-house battles.

African mediators said late on Sunday the Libyan leader had accepted a peace plan which included a ceasefire, but hours later Misrata, where anti-Gaddafi rebels have been fighting off attacks for weeks, came under renewed bombardment.

For the first time in Misrata, rebels said, pro-Gaddafi forces used Russian-made Grad rockets -- munitions fired in multiple rounds from launchers on the back of trucks, which take their name from the Russian word for "hail".

"This is a new escalation and a new level," rebel spokesman Mahmoud Amloda told Reuters by telephone. "We do not see any sign of a ceasefire. We do not want war. But what choice do we have? We have to defend ourselves. He (Gaddafi) is destroying everything like a madman and causing havoc."

Misrata, 200 km (130 miles) east of Tripoli, is the country's third biggest city and the last big rebel stronghold in the west of Libya.

Surrounded on three sides by troops, with the Mediterranean port the only lifeline, it has been subjected to weeks of shelling and sniper fire, steadily forcing the rebels back into a shrinking area of the city still under their control.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a report it had documented about 250 deaths -- most of them of civilians -- from the fighting in Misrata over the last month.

STREET FIGHTING   Continued...

<p>Protesters take part in an anti-Gaddafi demonstration outside the hotel where representatives of the African Union were meeting leaders of Libya's rebel leadership in Benghazi, April 11, 2011. The African Union delegation held talks with the rebel leadership on Monday in the opposition's Benghazi stronghold but the insurgents said they would accept no plan that allowed Muammar Gaddafi to stay in power. REUTERS/Andrew Winning</p>
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