Rebel-held Misurata under siege as rebels, Gaddafi forces battle in eastern and western Libya

Motivated by recent shows of political strength by neighbors in Egypt, people in the Middle East and North Africa are taking to the streets of many cities to rally for change.
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, March 10, 2011; 6:53 AM

BENGHAZI, LIBYA - Pro-government forces intensified their siege around the rebel-held town of Misurata Thursday, one resident said, cutting off the delivery of food and supplies, preventing farmers from going to their fields, and abducting people on the city's outskirts.

"People are being kidnapped. . .and taken to Sirte and other places, and from there to Tripoli, where they are tortured and have to confess to crimes they did not commit," said Saleh Abed el-Aziz, an architect, who was interviewed by phone.

Abed el-Aziz said morale in Misurata--a key port between Tripoli and Sirte, home town of Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi--is high despite the siege.

The weeks-old civil war was also being waged on at least two other fronts, with rebel forces claiming Wednesday to have broken through a three-day standoff with government fighters in the town of Bin Jawwad but acknowledging another day of heavy casualties in the besieged western city of Zawiyah.

In Zawiyah Thursday, "there was no shelling and it was quiet," said one resident, who had fled to Tripoli, the capital, 27 miles to the east, but was able to make contact with people who remained in the area.

Libyan state television announced late Wednesday that government forces had taken control of the city, but those assertions could not be independently verified. Shortly before midnight, the government bused journalists to a floodlit stadium that was apparently on the outskirts of the city. The journalists were greeted by fireworks and a cheering crowd of about 300 people who chanted "God is great" and waved pictures of Gaddafi.

Members of the crowd said they were celebrating the defeat of "troublemakers" but were vague about the details of the fighting or how many people had died.

A soldier, Ayman Kikly, 29, said the rebels fought with antiaircraft guns, rocket-propelled grenades and homemade bombs, but "the citizens who live here stood with the army, and they were outnumbered."

There was no evidence in the stadium of the fierce fighting that has occurred in Zawiyah over the last six days. And the resident who was interviewed by phone on Thursday described the situation as still fluid, with skirmishes between rebel and government forces.

On Wednesday "it was a cat and mouse game and no side could claim effective control over the city," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he feared retribution. Government forces heavily shelled the main square, using tank and mortar fire, machine guns and artillery.

Medical workers compiling a list of the dead say the toll from the fighting in Zawiyah on Tuesday could be as high as 50, a resident said. No death toll was available for Wednesday.

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2011 The Washington Post Company