Rebels warn of Misrata 'massacre'

2011-04-14 22:13

Algiers/Beirut - Libyan rebels said a rocket attack on a residential district of Misrata killed 23 civilians on Thursday and warned of an impending government "massacre" if Nato does not intensify its attacks there.

A rebel spokesperson said troops loyal to Muammar Gaddafi appeared to be deliberately targeting civilians in the western Libyan town. Most of the dead were reported to be women and children, along with three Egyptian migrant workers waiting to be evacuated.

"A massacre... will take place here if Nato does not intervene strongly," a rebel spokesperson, who identified himself as Abdelsalam, told Reuters by telephone from Misrata.

Rebels defending Misrata, their last major enclave in western Libya and the scene of heavy fighting in recent weeks, say they are worried by the lack of a clear military strategy to unseat Gaddafi among Nato allies.

Government forces unleashed a barrage of Russian-made rockets on Misrata's Kasr Ahmad district, located near the rebel-controlled port, at dawn and rebels said shelling continued in the city centre.

Hours later, hundreds of residents in the same area demonstrated against the bloodshed. "The blood of martyrs will not be in vain," the crowd chanted as some waved the flag of rebel-held Libya, live footage on Al Jazeera showed.

It is hard to independently verify accounts from western Libya because journalists are prevented from reporting freely.

Libyan TV painted a picture of tranquillity in Misrata.

Town is paralysed

"Misrata is presently enjoying peace and security, and work is under way to clean the city and allow the return of basic services to normal," a state-run channel said, citing the prime minister's office.

Rebels also faced off against Gaddafi loyalists in al Ghanamiya, located about 30km east of Zintan in the country's Western Mountains region, a Zintan resident said citing friends.

"In Zintan, the situation is getting worse. The town is paralysed. We are without fuel, water and food," the resident called Abdulrahman said.

Libyan officials say they are fighting armed militia with ties to al-Qaeda bent on destroying the North African country.

Government troops have laid siege to Misrata for more than six weeks since the city rose up in revolt along with others against Gaddafi's four-decade rule in mid February.

A rescue ship is on its way to Misrata to begin evacuating 6 000 stranded migrants, many in an "extremely poor state", said the International Organisation for Migration in Geneva.

Rebels say the situation is getting worse each day.

"There is no baby milk. There is also an acute shortage of food and medicine. People cannot come out to try to buy what they need for fear of being hit by snipers and shells," said rebel spokesperson Abdelsalam.