Rockets have landed in rebel-held Misrata for the first time in several weeks, signalling that the coastal city remains within range of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s artillery fire.
Although no one was hurt in the attack, it dampened the relative sense of security among Misrata’s residents, who had believed the siege on their city was broken after rebels drove out loyalist forces in mid-May.
“Everyone is worried. We don’t know where to go anymore. Only when I die will I be safe,” said Mohammed Mabrouk, who lives near one of two houses hit by the rockets. Two more landed in open areas.
Fighting has been largely on Misrata’s far western and eastern edges, where the rebel rag-tag army is sustaining heavier casualties by the day from the better equipped and better trained government forces.
Rebels have been trying to advance west toward the town of Zlitan, where Gaddafi’s soldiers are imposing a tight siege. Libyan television said on Wednesday that “dozens” of people were killed in Zlitan after Nato naval ships shelled the town.
The report could not be independently verified because foreign reporters have been prevented from entering Zlitan.
Nato only comments on its Libya operations the day after.
If the Libyan television report is confirmed, it could further complicate the mission of the Nato-led military alliance, whose credibility has been questioned after it admitted on Sunday killing civilians in a Tripoli air strike.
A rebel spokesperson called Mohammed told Reuters from Zlitan that Nato had been hitting loyalist military targets in the town on an almost daily basis. He said Gaddafi’s soldiers used their artillery positions in Zlitan to fire salvoes toward Misrata.
“We hear the sound of artillery fire every night,” he said.
Four rebel fighters were killed and 60 others were wounded in fighting with loyalist forces on Tuesday in Dafniya, which lies between Zlitan and Misrata. Eleven rebel fighters were killed there a day earlier.
Rebels have made slow progress since Nato countries joined their fight to overthrow Gaddafi in March but are now trying to inch towards Tripoli from Misrata, east of the capital, and from the Western Mountains region to its south-west.
The going is especially tough in Misrata.
“Gaddafi’s forces have moved forward about a kilometre,” Dr Mohammed Grigda said at the field hospital in Dafniya just outside Misrata. It was impossible to verify the information but a Reuters reporter in Dafniya saw that rebel mortar positions had edged back slightly.
Shelling by government forces positioned outside Misrata has been limited to neighbourhoods on the edge of the city. A child was killed and two others were wounded on Monday when a rocket exploded in a house near the port in the east.
In the Western Mountains, where the rebels made significant gains in recent weeks, Nato launched four air strikes on Tuesday against loyalist forces outside the town of Nalut near the border with Tunisia, a rebel spokesman there said. Gaddafi’s soldiers fired 20 rockets into the town, but no one was hurt.
Nato said it lost an unmanned helicopter drone over Libya on Tuesday but denied a Libyan state television report that it was a manned Apache aircraft.
“Nato confirms it has not lost any attack helicopter,” Nato military spokesperson Wing Commander Mike Bracken said in a statement. An “unmanned autonomous helicopter drone” had lost contact with its command centre, it said.
Gaddafi allies denounce the bombing campaign as a foreign attempt to force a change of government and seize the North African state’s oil. Nato states defend the operation as a UN-mandated mission to protect Libyan civilians.
Nato admitted on Sunday its strike destroyed a house in Tripoli. Libyan officials said nine civilians died. The Libyan government said on Monday that 19 people were killed in another air strike, raising more questions about the military mission.
Libyan officials say Nato forces have killed more than 700 civilians, but have not presented evidence of such large numbers of civilian deaths and Nato denies them.
In a further blow to Libya’s leaders, the United States on Tuesday blacklisted nine companies owned or controlled by Gaddafi’s government. The sanctions prohibit US transactions with the companies, including the Arab Turkish Bank, North Africa International Bank and North Africa Commercial Bank. – Reuters