Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Misrata tense as Gaddafi ultimatum expires

THE besieged Libyan rebel city of Misrata braced for a new bombardment by Muammar Gaddafi's forces today as an ultimatum for its surrender expired a day after shelling killed 14 people.

Loyalist tanks thrust into the western suburbs of the oil-rich North African nation's third city from their base at the airport on Monday as Gaddafi's family mourned a son and three grandchildren killed in a NATO-led air strike.

Around 30 people were wounded, some critically, putting new pressure on already stretched hospital facilities, medics said, as fearful residents bemoaned the absence of a more forceful use of the Western alliance's air power.

Two of Gaddafi's tanks were destroyed in yesterday's fighting -- one in a NATO air raid and the other by the rebels, commanders said.

Government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim announced the ultimatum for rebel fighters in Misrata to cease fire late on Friday, offering them an amnesty if they laid down their weapons.

The rebels, who have been under siege by loyalist forces for some two months, promptly rejected it.

"We will not surrender. We win or we die," said the rebels' top commander, Ibrahim Bet-Almal, who lost his son in fighting with the loyalist forces on April 9.

With the airport in government hands, the rebels are entirely dependent on supply by sea, and the city's port came under renewed bombardment on Monday after Gaddafi threatened to shell any vessel attempting to dock.


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