Misrata: Libyan rebels have accused Muammar Gaddafi of playing dirty games in Misrata, where salvos of Grad rockets exploded on Sunday in apparent contradiction of his regime’s vow to halt fire in the western city.
“Gaddafi is playing a really dirty game,” the Transitional National Council’s military spokesman, Colonel Omar Bani, said in the rebel capital Benghazi.
Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim said early Sunday the Army had suspended operations against rebels in Misrata, but not left the city, to enable local tribes to find a peaceful solution.
“The armed forces have not withdrawn from Misrata. They have simply suspended their operations,” Kaim told a news conference in the capital.
“The tribes are determined to solve the problem within 48 hours… We believe that this battle will be settled peacefully and not militarily.”
Kaim had previously announced the Army would withdraw from Misrata and leave local tribes to resolve the conflict in the city, either by talks or through force.
But rebels dismissed the latest move as a ploy, as bursts of automatic weapons fire could be heard and Grad rockets exploded on the city, scene of deadly urban guerrilla fighting for weeks between rebels and Gaddafi loyalists.
“It is a trick, they didn’t go,” Bani said in the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi, adding: “They have stayed a bit out of Tripoli Street but they are preparing themselves to attack again.”
On Saturday, Libya’s third city suffered the worst toll in 65 days of fighting, with 28 dead and 100 wounded compared with a daily average of 11 killed, according to Doctor Khalid Abu Falra at Misrata’s main private clinic.
NATO planes staged raids on civil and military sites in Tripoli and other cities, JANA news agency said, without giving casualty numbers. Earlier raids by the alliance struck near a compound in the capital where Gaddafi resides.
“A military source said civil and military sites were targeted by the colonialist aggressor,” said JANA, specifying the strikes also hit Al-Khums, Gharian, El Assa and Gaddafi’s hometown Sirte.
Three explosions rocked Tripoli late Saturday as NATO warplanes overflew the capital, journalists said, after several earlier blasts in the city centre and outlying quarters.
Heavy anti-aircraft and automatic arms fire were also heard in many areas of the city.
A French journalist was shot in the neck in Misrata, medics said, noting he underwent an operation and was now out of danger. Friends refused to identify the journalist, a blogger who worked for “alternative media”.
The United States earlier carried out its first Predator drone strike in Libya, which NATO said had destroyed one of the regime’s multiple rocket launchers allegedly used to target civilians in besieged Misrata.
Gaddafi’s regime has accused the United States of “new crimes against humanity” for deploying the low-flying, unmanned aircraft.
Falra, the doctor, said the casualty toll was double that of a “normal” day of fighting in Libya’s third city between rebels and Gaddafi’s forces, and was more than the hospital could take.
“We’re overwhelmed, overwhelmed. We lack everything: personnel, equipment and medicines,” he said.
Ambulances pulled up outside the hospital every five to 10 minutes, also bringing in wounded loyalists.
“We can’t go on at this rate. We are losing people who in normal times we would be able to treat,” said exhausted surgeon Mahmud Mohammed, as explosions and gunfire echoed from the streets.
At the prized western gate of Ajdabiya, a lull in fighting has given families some respite in their search for loved ones who have gone missing in and around the strategic crossroads city.
“As things calm down, people are building up the courage to come out and report,” said Najim Miftah, a volunteer who has a binder of missing people that has doubled in two days with more than 70 new records.
Omar Rajab, a 29-year-old rebel, said tribal fighters in plain clothes had joined the loyalist forces in Misrata, saying they “come from tribes in the south”.
NATO said it had kept a “high operational tempo” of over 3,000 sorties, nearly half of them strikes, since the transatlantic military alliance assumed full control of the mission late last month.
“We have struck a broad range of targets across the country — tanks and rocket launchers, armoured vehicles and ammunition stores, command and control sites,” it added in a statement.
An aid ship delivered 160 tonnes of food and medicine to the port city on Saturday before a planned evacuation of around 1,000 stranded refugees.
Hundreds of Libyan families had lined up along the harbour front in hope of getting on board the vessel chartered by the International Organisation for Migration.
But Dakir Hussam, a Syrian electrician, expressed his delight at managing to get a place on the Red Star One.
“Gaddafi’s men shoot at anything that moves in the city, but they are also suffering a lot,” he said, referring to the burial he saw of up to a dozen loyalist fighters this week.
The UN refugee agency says about 15,000 people have fled fighting in western Libya into Tunisia in the past two weeks and a much larger exodus was feared.
Three people who escaped the violence in Libya were killed and 72 hurt when their truck overturned in northern Niger, that country’s state radio reported.
Massive Libyan protests in February — inspired by the revolts that toppled long-time autocrats in Egypt and Tunisia — escalated into war when Gaddafi’s troops fired on demonstrators and protesters seized several eastern towns.
The battle lines have been more or less static in recent weeks, however, as NATO air strikes have helped block Gaddafi’s eastward advance but failed to give the poorly organised and outgunned rebels a decisive victory. Agencies