Gaddafi's troops put rebel city under siege
Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's tanks, flanked by platoons of assault troops, attacked the rebel city of Misurata from two sides yesterday as the regime encircled the last stronghold of the uprising in western Libya.
Having surrounded the town, the Libyan army continued to push in from the eastern gate and from bases in the western suburb of Tawarga.
A pummelling from the tanks on Misurata's white stone apartment blocks gave cover for ground forces to take up offensive positions.
One resident said batches of 30 troops filed through side alleys to seize high points on buildings for sharpshooters.
"A sniper shot is more lethal than the tanks' bombardment, as snipers can assassinate anyone within a mile," he said from the heart of the battle.
The plight of Misurata has become the focus of international concerns that Gaddafi is willing to perpetrate crimes against humanity.
The regime launched a bloody offensive against the Mediterranean port just days before the UN resolution authorising force to stop his troops.
Fighting has killed scores and injured hundreds more in the town over nine days of close-quarter combat.
"We have had 142 dead since March 18," a doctor said. "We can't keep count any more of the wounded but it is clearly more than 1,400, including 90 in a serious condition."
Fighting has escalated in the last couple of days -- after Gaddafi's forces declared a ceasefire -- and rebel leaders warned that without more help the town will fall.
Cars riddled with bullets and burned are piled at intersections. Buildings have been looted, and pedestrians walk nervously along the shopping strips. Tripoli cut off water supplies, electricity, food shipments and medical supplies more than a week ago. Snipers' guns trained on entrances to the main hospitals have made admission a lottery.
Opposition activists have appealed for supplies from the sea. Taruk Tarhuni, a Libyan based in Malta, said he was organising aid flotillas. "People there are struggling as the city is under siege," he said.
The prospect of relief through a quick sweep west by rebel forces receded as the opposition was beaten back by a lightning counter-attack from Gaddafi's stronghold in Sirte.
Civilians in towns along the rapidly switching front had fled or were hiding. Further east in Nouflia, people were said to have taken to the desert to escape the violence. (© Daily Telegraph, London)