Rebels repel Gaddafi assault on Misrata's east

Libyan rebels said on Friday they had repelled an assault by government troops on the eastern flank of the coastal city of Misrata but the fighting had forced residents to flee the area.

A rebel spokesman said forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi had advanced on the heavily populated Esqeer district in an effort to loosen the rebels' grip on Misrata where families are crammed together in the few remaining safe districts.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it expected a humanitarian vessel it had chartered to reach Misrata by midday on Saturday, but gave no details of the relief cargo it was carrying.

"The attack from the east has been repelled now and the (pro-Gaddafi) forces have been pushed back," a rebel spokesman who gave his name as Hassan al-Misrati told Reuters by telephone.

Gaddafi's armor also shelled areas around Misrata's strategically important Tripoli road, which cuts through to the city center from the western outskirts.

Earlier, rebels had barricaded parts of the main artery with containers full of sand and stones in an effort to isolate government snipers deployed on rooftops from back-up forces.

Residents say they and thousands of migrant workers trapped in Misrata face shortages of basic foodstuffs and have only sporadic water and electricity. Doctors in the past few days have said the hospitals are overwhelmed.

Accounts from Misrata cannot be independently verified because the Libyan authorities have not allowed journalists to report freely from the city.

Sheltering in Schools

Families desperately sought refuge as rebels countered the latest military push by government forces, with many seeking shelter in schools.

In the district of Ramla, residents were camped out in each of the area's 12 schools.

"They have been turned into refugee camps," said Misrati. "When will this end, how will it end? God knows," he added.

NATO says protecting Misrata's civilians is a priority. The city's rebel-controlled port is a vital lifeline for supplies for trapped civilians.

ICRC spokesman Christian Cardon said the agency's relief shipment was due to land in Misrata by midday on Saturday. The aid follows a delivery of food and medical supplies by the United Nation's World Food Programme on Thursday.

"Meetings continue in Tripoli," he added, referring to talks that started more than a week ago between senior ICRC officials and Libyan government officials to increase the agency's access to civilians caught in the conflict.

A Maltese logistics company, Medserv, which supplies the offshore oil and gas industry but has suspended operations at Misrata port, confirmed vessels were able to enter the port.

"It seems the port is still OK," Anthony Diacono, chairman of Medserv told Reuters.

[Source: By Mariam Karouny, Reuters, 08Apr11]

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