Tripoli: NATO air strikes compelled Libyan government forces to withdraw from one of their positions in the besieged city of Misrata overnight but they resumed bombardment of the port area on Wednesday, a rebel spokesman said.
A ship waiting offshore to evacuate thousand of migrant workers from the city used a lull in shelling that has reduced large areas of the city to rubble to dock at the port. It was not immediately clear whether it had left before firing resumed.
Misrata, a western enclave offering a sealink to the eastern rebel heartland, is the focus of Moammar Gadhafi’s drive to break a rebellion against his four-decade rule. But neither the army nor rebels backed by British and French-led NATO air strikes have achieved a decisive victory in weeks of fighting.
“Gadhafi’s forces retreated from the port area where they were positioned on Tuesday after air strikes by the NATO forces. The strikes completely destroyed 37 military vehicles,” the rebel spokesman, called Reda, said in Algiers by telephone from Misrata.
“Gadhafi’s forces this morning started bombarding an area about 10 km north of the city. It is known as the Steel area. The bombardment is still going on. They are using Grad missiles ... Warplanes are flying over Misrata’s outskirts but I don’t hear any sound of strikes,” he said by telephone.
Grad missiles are Russian-made munitions fired in multiple volleys, usually from the back of trucks.
Aid ship docks
Hours before the shelling resumed, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said a vessel had docked in Misrata with the aim of evacuating Libyans wounded in the fighting, as well as migrant workers, to the eastern rebel heartland of Benghazi.
“The Red Star One has just docked and is unloading aid supplies, including ambulances,” a spokesman said during a lull in the shelling.
A rebel spokesman in Misrata, Libya’s third-biggest city, said eight local people had been killed in fighting on Tuesday, up from the previous figure of three killed.
“There was a very intense bombardment in the port area and another area southwest of Misrata, some 4 km from the (city) centre, the spokesman, called Sami, said by telephone from Misrata. The line was cut before the spokesman could give any more details.
Military deadlock in Libya has exposed growing international rifts, with critics of NATO bombing calling it another case of the West trying to overthrow a regime by stretching the terms of a UN resolution. The rebels themselves have sometimes accused NATO of not doing enough to drive back Gadhafi’s forces.
“Is there a lack of such crooked regimes in the world?” Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin asked on Tuesday. “Are we going to bomb everywhere and conduct missile strikes?”
A senior African Union official accused Western nations of undermining an AU peace plan that would not require Gadhafi’s removal from power.
British and US officials met on Tuesday to discuss how to step up military pressure on Gadhafi.
Warplanes flattened a building in Gadhafi’s compound on Monday in what his officials called an assassination attempt. NATO denies trying to kill him.
British defence secretary Liam Fox and Britain’s chief of the defence staff General David Richards met US defense secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington.
After the Washington talks, Gates said the coalition was not targeting Gadhafi specifically. Fox said there had been some “momentum” in the Libyan conflict in recent days.
Western forces have run out of obvious targets to bomb, say analysts, without achieving a clear military result.
Libya’s state news agency Jana said Tripoli had urged Russia to call an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, where Moscow has a permanent seat. A Russian official said no instructions for such a call had been made.
The war has split the oil producer, Africa’s fourth biggest, into a government-held western area round the capital Tripoli and an eastern region held by disorganised but dedicated rebels.