Libyan rebels push on Brega, Misrata bombarded

 Libyan rebels pushed toward the strategic oil port of Brega while Muammar Gaddafi's forces pounded besieged Misrata to the west with rockets and mortars.

Rebels said Gaddafi's forces were ensconced in the center of Brega, often inside houses, while insurgent fighters were more exposed.

"We have people on the edge of Brega, we control that area only. Nothing has changed inside Brega," Mohammed el-Misrati, 20, after returning to Ajdabiyah to the east, said on Saturday.

Gaddafi's forces have been bombing the road from Ajdabiyah, 80 km (50 miles) east of Brega, for several days, sometimes firing from a distance, sometimes approaching in cars.

Six rebels were killed and 16 wounded when Gaddafi loyalists fired rockets at a group of insurgents driving along the exposed coastal highway westward from Ajdabiyah.

"We were in our vehicles and they opened fire with rockets," said Abdulrazek, one of the men hit in Saturday's attack, groaning in pain in Ajdabiyah hospital. Outside, medics gathered blood-soaked bandages and scrubbed stretchers clean of blood.

Ajdabiyah, once a bustling city of 100,000, has become a ghost town, with most residents fleeing the fighting.

At the town's western entrance, a group of rebels triumphantly drove a pick-up truck through a checkpoint, saying they had commandeered it from Gaddafi forces on the Brega road.

A rebel with an AK-47 rifle strapped to his shoulders played a guitar and sang in Arabic and English to his comrades, who tried to memorise the words and sing along.

"Hit us with your rockets; hit us with your tanks; we have no problem; we will win. Our country will be free, our country will be strong, my mother, don't worry, we know how to fight. We know how to get freedom," they sang.

SIEGE

Sunday marks a month since the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution authorizing force to protect civilians in Libya, leading to an international air campaign.

The United States, France and Britain said this week they will not stop bombing Gaddafi's forces until he leaves power, effectively revising the mission's aim to regime change.

U.S. President Barack Obama acknowledged on Friday that the military situation on the ground had reached "stalemate," but said sanctions and air strikes had isolated Gaddafi and the leader would be ousted eventually.

The air campaign has failed to alleviate the siege of Misrata, the rebels' only major stronghold in the west of the country, cut off by Gaddafi's forces for seven weeks, where hundreds of civilians are believed to have died.

A rebel spokesman, Gemal Salem, said Gaddafi's forces pounded the town with rockets and mortars on Saturday, targeting a dairy factory and another that makes cooking oil.

"The (government) forces are still firing mortars at residential areas. There are clashes in Tripoli Street. Three people were killed today," Salem, the rebel spokesman, said, referring to Misrata's main thoroughfare.

Another rebel spokesman said government forces fired at least 100 Grad rockets into the city early on Saturday, targeting an industrial area close to the port where thousands of migrants are stranded and awaiting evacuation.

"The (Gaddafi) forces have focused their shelling on that area in the past few days because they want to scare away ships bringing aid or aiming to evacuate migrants," Abdelbasset Abu Mzereiq said by telephone.

A resident who arrived in Tunisia on Saturday said the fighting in Misrata was getting worse by the day.

Ibrahim Ali, 22, accompanied a neighbor seriously wounded in a shelling attack, one of 64 of Misrata's wounded evacuated on a ship by medical charity Medecins Sans Frontiers.

"They are bombing residential areas day and night. It's non-stop and they are using bigger weapons," he said in a hospital in Tunisia's port of Sfax. "They bomb roads, houses."

Food was running short in some areas but people were trying to help each other out, and electricity was on and off. "Many shops are closed. At the bakeries there are long queues."

Some streets where heavy fighting was taking place were fast becoming unrecognizable. "The destruction is total," he said.

Asked who was controlling most of the city, Ali said: "It's 50-50. It can change quickly."

AFP

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