Fighting wanes in Misrata but Gadhafi defiant

Fighting wanes in Misrata but Gadhafi defiant

Misrata: Fighting waned Tuesday in Misrata as rebels said they pushed Moammar Gadhafi’s troops out of the besieged city, but the Libyan leader stayed defiant despite NATO bombing his compound.

Russia, meanwhile, said it would not back a new UN Security Council resolution on further intervention in Libya, as Italy and France called on the international community to stop shipping oil products to Gadhafi’s regime.

NATO offered details of bombing raids on several targets near Misrata, Gadhafi’s hometown of Sirte and Tripoli, including the strongman’s compound in the capital and missile launchers.

There appeared to be a lull in fighting in Misrata, with no explosions heard during the night after rockets and artillery shells had fallen sporadically late n Monday, AFP reporters and medics said.

Rebels in the port city, their last bastion in western Libya 215 kilometres from Tripoli, said they had pushed Gadhafi’s troops out after a siege lasting more than seven weeks.

“There may be some soldiers hiding in the city, afraid of being killed, but there are no groups of soldiers left," one rebel said.

Rockets and mortars had rained down on Misrata overnight Sunday-Monday, killing at least a dozen people and wounding 20, according to figures provided by sources at the city’s hospitals.

Doctor Khalid Abu Falra at Misrata’s main private clinic said on Tuesday another two bodies had been brought to his facility of people killed overnight by mortar shells near the eastern outskirts of the city.

In Mujamaa Tibi hospital, Mohamed al-Fajieh described unusually severe wounds and corpses reduced to little more than ashes.

There were “completely charred corpses, some of them so badly burned that we aren’t sure they are human bodies," he said. “This is the first time we’ve seen such burns."

Sources said those caught up in the violence were all civilians -- including young children.

Rebel leader Taher Bashaga said: “It will take some time, I think, but then it will all go well and Misrata will be free for ever, God willing."

But Gadhafi remained defiant despite NATO bombing his Tripoli compound and military equipment, including some in his birthplace Sirte.

“The leader is working from Tripoli. The leader is well, is very healthy, is leading the battle for peace and democracy in Libya," regime spokesperson Mussa Ibrahim said outside the bombed building at Gadhafi’s Bab al-Aziziya residence.

“The leader is in a safe place. He is leading a battle... he works every day. He led the battle to provide people with services, with food, medicine, fuel," Ibrahim told a news conference in the presence of several ambassadors on Monday.

A meeting room facing Gadhafi’s office was badly damaged in what NATO in Brussels said was “a precision strike" on a communications centre early on Monday.

Three people were killed and 45 wounded -- 15 seriously -- in the air strike, Ibrahim said.

NATO said it struck an intelligence complex in Tripoli on Monday, one tank, three surface-to-air missile launchers, infantry fighting vehicles, a rocket launcher and a vehicle depot.

It also bombed a surface-to-air missile training facility in the vicinity of Misrata, while in Sirte it bombed three ammunition depots.

Even as Misrata rebels expressed optimism over their conquests in the city, their claim was greeted sceptically in the eastern city of Benghazi, the stronghold of the rebellion that erupted in mid-February against Gadhafi.

The Transitional National Council’s military spokesman Colonel Ahmed Omar Bani dismissed reports of progress in Misrata.

“It is a disaster there," he said. “Gadhafi is not going anywhere. Misrata is the key to Tripoli. If he lets go of Misrata, he will let go of Tripoli. He is not crazy enough to do that."

Libya’s deputy foreign minister Khaled Kaim says the army suspended operations against rebels in Misrata, but remained in the city, to enable local tribes to settle the battle “peacefully and not militarily."

Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, meanwhile, said Russia would not back a new UN Security Council resolution on Libya if it calls for further foreign intervention.

Noting a new resolution was not being discussed, Lavrov said “if it leads to a further escalation of civil war through one method or another, including foreign intervention, we will not be able to support it."

Russia, however, could back new UN action if it “calls for an immediate end to all violence, bloodshed, the use of force, military action, and calls on all sides to immediately sit down at the negotiating table," Lavrov added.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Monday that Italy’s air force would take part in “targeted action" in Libya.

Separately, Italy and France called on the international community to stop shipping oil products to Gadhafi’s government and urged market operators not to buy his regime’s crude oil.

“Italy and France will not accept hydrocarbons sold by Gadhafi and his regime," said statement issued after a summit between Berlusconi and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

“We urge all countries and oil market operators to reject any type of trade or transport of hydrocarbons that could benefit Kadhafi’s regime," it said, calling on countries “to stop deliveries of crude or refined oil products that could help attacks against the population."