Up to 31 reported dead as Libyan government troops attack Misrata

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Muammar al-Gaddafi in 2009

Pro-Muammar al-Gaddafi forces attacked Libya's third-largest city of Misrata for much of Friday, killing up to 31 rebel fighters in the most violent day since the city came under rebel control in April.

Most of the fighting took place just west of the city, where Gaddafi's troops launched an attack with both infantry troops and four tanks, as well as lighter weaponry, such as rockets and mortars. Rebel fighters were reportedly able to repel the assault, destroying two tanks and advancing by about 6 miles (9.7 kilometres).

Estimates of those killed by the fighting varied from as low as 22 to as high as 31, with up to 60 more reported injured, according to doctors in Misrata, making Friday the deadliest day for rebel troops since they gained control of the city.

The new assault appears to be in response to NATO helicopter attacks against Gaddafi.

While NATO aircraft attacked both communications and military equipment on Thursday night, there were no strikes by coalition aircraft during the fighting on Friday. One rebel fighter said: "I don't know why NATO didn't bomb. [The tanks] were very easy to see." While NATO has been criticized by rebels for failing to provide support, one unnamed official said that NATO is "in Libya to protect civilians. The rebels have proved themselves to be very courageous but we are not there to act as their air force."