* Fighting centred on Tripoli Street and road to port
* NATO says it destroyed five tanks near Misrata
* Shelling reported in rebel town of Zintan
* For more news on Libya, click on (Adds NATO statement, Al Jazeera says 4 killed in Misrata)
By Mariam Karouny and Souhail Karam
BEIRUT/RABAT, April 12 (Reuters) - Libyan government artillery bombarded the besieged city of Misrata on Tuesday but rebels said they had beaten back two separate offensives by troops loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
NATO aircraft destroyed five tanks close to Misrata — the last big rebel stronghold in the west of the country — which were “threatening the civilian population”, the alliance said.
“Our aircraft will continue to hit regime targets around Misrata,” the NATO operation commander, Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard, said in a statement.
Misrata, along with other cities, rose up in revolt against Gaddafi’s four-decade rule in mid-February.
“There was heavy fighting in Tripoli Street and the rebels held their positions. Also, very intense fighting occurred on the eastern side of Misrata on the Nak el Theqeel road. The rebels repelled the attack,” a rebel spokesman, who identified himself as Mohamad Abu Shaara, told Reuters by telephone.
Tripoli Street is a main thoroughfare that cuts through to the city centre from the western outskirts while the Nak el Theqeel road leads to Misrata’s rebel-controlled port.
A rebel spokesman called Abdelsalam quoted medics as saying one rebel was killed. Al Jazeera television later quoted another rebel spokesman, Abdelbasset Abu Mzereiq, as saying four people were killed on Tuesday and 23 wounded.
A resident called Ghassan said those killed in Misrata on Monday included a young girl. “Medical workers today collected the bodies of 12 people, mainly civilians but rebel fighters as well, killed yesterday,” he said by phone.
“Most of the bodies were retrieved from the area of Tripoli Street. The dead included a three-year-old girl who was shot dead by a sniper along with a 50-year-old man in the west of Misrata, medical workers told me.”
Libyan officials say they are fighting armed militia groups linked to al Qaeda who are bent on destabilising the north African country. It is difficult to verify reports from Misrata because journalists are prevented from reporting freely there.
Ghassan said some 1,000 people took to the streets of northern Misrata on Tuesday to show support for the rebels.
“About 1,000 people held a peaceful protest close to the beach in the Kasir Ahmad area to express their support for the rebels and to reject the ceasefire proposal put forward by the African Union,” he said. “Protesters held banners reading: “The blood of our martyrs will not be in vain” and “We stand strong”.
A rebel spokesman in the town of Zintan, also under attack by Gaddafi forces, said there had been a new bombardment.
“The pro-Gaddafi forces located north of the town fired mortar rounds from pick-up trucks at Zintan. Fortunately only one person was wounded in the attack,” the spokesman, called Abdulrahman, said by phone.
Zintan is in the Western Mountains region, a sparsely populated area inhabited by ethnic Berbers, many of whom rose up against Gaddafi’s rule. Residents of the region who fled to neighbouring Tunisia have told Reuters that government forces are waging a campaign of terror there, destroying homes, killing livestock and threatening to rape women
The rebel spokesman said Gaddafi’s forces, unable to get into Zintan itself, were targeting people in nearby villages and rounding up anyone suspected of links to the rebels.
He said pro-Gaddafi forces had burned down the homes of about 40 to 50 families originally from Zintan who now live in the nearby hamlet of al-Ghnayma and “have also been poisoning their water wells by pouring in fuel and ... engine oil.”
Zintan itself was suffering from an increasingly acute shortage of water, the spokesman said.
“Zintan relies on water from the foothills of the mountains. But with the fuel shortage, tanker trucks cannot go there and even if they had fuel they’d run the risk of being attacked by Gaddafi forces controlling that position,” Abdulrahman said.
Additional reporting by Joseph Nasr in Berlin and by David Brunnstrom in Brussels; Writing by Richard Lough and Christian Lowe; editing by Tim Pearce