Africa

Libya: Under fire on Misrata's frontline

  • 15 June 2011
  • From the section Africa
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I'm peering - rather cautiously - over the top of a giant shipping container that has been dragged into the middle of the four-lane highway leading west from Misrata to the town of Zlitan and then on towards Tripoli.

This is the brand new rebel frontline that has edged forward almost one mile (1.5km) in the past couple of days and now lies just beyond the small farming community of Dafnia.

Beside me, an 18-year-old rebel fighter named Abdul Rahman is peering through binoculars at Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's forces, who have set up their own barricades now visible just more than half a mile down the road.

Ahead, slightly to the right - and uncomfortably close - we hear the sudden whoosh of rockets being fired almost over our heads. Abdul Rahman scowls.

Rebel fighters pose for a picture at the front line of Dafniya about 25 miles (40km) west of Misrata, Libya
Rebel fighters west of Misrata face fire from rocket, artillery and mortar fire.

"When Nato decide to strike they do a good job, but they don't seem to strike very often here," he says.

"That rocket launcher has been pounding us since early this morning. We're sure Nato can see it, but what we can't understand is why they don't take it out for us."

A little earlier we heard the distant roar of Nato jets in the clouds overhead.

Now they are back - just visible below the clouds - and we hear some big explosions somewhere in the orchards and woods ahead.

Fresh pizzas

The rebels say that overnight the jets dropped leaflets on Gaddafi's positions, and some drifted over to their side.

I want to find one of the leaflets, but the rebels have just started firing with their heavy machine guns, and there is a strong chance that Gaddafi loyalists will take aim at these positions, as they did a couple of hours ago, with mortars.

We drive back a few miles to a field clinic that has been set up in a building beside the highway.

As we walk in, I spot a pizza oven that's being delivered "to make fresh pizza for us, and for our fighters," as a doctor explains.

I run into some other journalists outside who took pictures of one of the Nato leaflets and said they had initially caused some alarm and confusion among the rebels who thought they might be addressed to them not their enemy.

The leaflets, in Arabic, read: "Nato will use all possible means to destroy all armour used against civilians. Stop fighting. When you see these helicopters, it means it is already too late for you."

The clinic is quiet right now.

Rebel fighters hold up a Nato propaganda leaflet at the frontline of Dafniya about 25 miles (40km) west of Misrata, Libya
The leaflets read: "Nato will use all possible means to destroy all armour used against civilians"

On Friday more than 30 dead fighters and almost 200 wounded were brought to the young doctors here. Almost all the victims these days are from rocket, artillery and mortar fire.

"We see hardly any gunshot wounds now. Nato should do something about these heavy weapons," says Dr Muad Ben-Sasi.

But later, Misrata's military spokesman, Fathi Bashagha - who also acts as a liaison with Nato - tells me: "Gaddafi's forces are very clever. They hide their rockets and grads very well. They are hard for Nato to find."

He is just back from Misrata's port, which has been hit repeatedly in the past 24 hours by rockets fired from "at least 40km away".

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