* Rebels say they trapped dozens of government snipers
* Misrata residents crammed together, seek refuge in schools
(Adds new quotes from rebel, resident)
By Mariam Karouny
BEIRUT, April 8 (Reuters) - Rebels said they fought off an assault on the east of Misrata by forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi on Friday.
A rebel spokesman said government troops had advanced on the heavily populated Esqeer district in an effort to loosen the rebels’ grip on Misrata, where families are crammed together in the few remaining safe districts.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it expected a humanitarian vessel it had chartered to reach Misrata by midday on Saturday but gave no details of the relief cargo it was carrying.
“The attack from the east has been repelled now and the (pro-Gaddafi) forces have been pushed back,” a rebel spokesman, who gave his name as Hassan al-Misrati, told Reuters by phone.
A second rebel said Gaddafi’s troops had deployed a tank along Tripoli Street to try to assert control of the strategic highway, which leads into the city centre from the western outskirts, after rebels attacked government sniper positions.
Rebels barricaded parts of the main artery with shipping containers full of sand and stones to try to isolate the gunmen. Gemal Salem said the rebels destroyed the lower levels of the multi-storey Ta’ameen building, trapping dozens of snipers.
“Now they are totally blocked. They are under siege in the building. They cannot receive back-up, nor can they leave,” Salem told Reuters by telephone.
Salem said fighting was still going on in the evening. He said two residents had been killed in Friday’s clashes, including a 10-year-old boy when shelling hit his house.
“There is fighting now and we can say it’s heavy fighting because heavy weapons are used, artillery and others,” he said. “The Gaddafi forces have pushed a few tanks into Tripoli Street and the rebels are dealing with them.”
Misrata resident Ghassan said there was intermittent fighting in a small town outside Misrata and in Tripoli Street.
“There have been clashes between the rebels and pro-Gaddafi forces since yesterday evening in the areas of Zawiyat al Mahjoub and the centre around Tripoli Street,” he said. “I can hear distant explosions as we speak. The port area is quiet.”
Residents say they and thousands of migrant workers trapped in Misrata face shortages of basic foodstuffs and have only sporadic supplies of water and electricity. Doctors in the past few days have said the hospitals are overwhelmed.
Accounts from Misrata cannot be independently verified because the Libyan authorities have not allowed journalists to report freely from the city.
Rebel fighters said the plight of Misrata’s growing population of displaced people threatened to become a serious problem. Families are crammed into houses in the few safe districts of Misrata and seeking refuge in schools.
“They have been turned into refugee camps,” said Misrati. “When will this end, how will it end? God knows.”
Misrata’s rebel force called on foreign powers to supply them with arms.
“(NATO’s) air strikes seem to be inefficient and we do not want them to send troops in, so the only solution left is to arm us,” said Salem, a member of the rebels’ media committee.
NATO says protecting Misrata’s civilians is a priority.
ICRC spokesman Christian Cardon said the agency’s relief shipment was due in Misrata by midday on Saturday. The aid follows a delivery of food and medical supplies by the U.N. World Food Programme on Thursday.
“Meetings continue in Tripoli,” he added, referring to talks that started more than a week ago between senior ICRC officials and Libyan government officials to increase the agency’s access to civilians caught in the conflict. (Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Jonathan Saul in London and Joseph Nasr in Berlin; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Louise Ireland)