Libya: Misrata firing despite army 'halt to operations'

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Media captionThe BBC's Orla Guerin: "There were reports of people being kidnapped from their homes"

Libyan rebels in Misrata say forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi have bombarded the centre and three residential areas, killing at least six people.

There was no independent confirmation but earlier reports spoke of rocket explosions and automatic gunfire.

Government forces had reportedly been ordered to halt fighting to give tribal leaders a chance to negotiate with the rebels.

Meanwhile, a ship carrying evacuees from Misrata reached Benghazi.

The rebels received a financial boost on Sunday when Kuwait announced it was giving 50m dinars (£110m, $180m) to the rebel government, the Transitional National Council.

Misrata, Libya's third largest city and the only town of any size held by the rebels in the west, has seen some of the bloodiest fighting of the conflict.

Human rights groups say more than 1,000 people have been killed, and Saturday was one of the bloodiest days yet, with 28 people killed and scores injured, rebels and doctors say.

The popular revolt against Col Gaddafi - inspired by similar uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia - began in February.

'Dozens of rockets'

Image caption More injured evacuees from Misrata arrived by ship in Benghazi on Sunday

A rebel spokesman, named as Abdelsalam, told Reuters news agency by telephone from Misrata that pro-Gaddafi forces had begun a "random bombardment" in the early hours of Sunday.

Three residential areas and the city centre, including strategically important Tripoli Street, were under fire, he said. Another rebel spokesman, Ahmed Hassan, said at least one person had been killed and 12 wounded.

A resident who spoke to the Associated Press (AP) said "dozens of rockets" had been fired at the city.

According to the same source, rebel fighters had pushed government forces to the edge of city, taking control of the main hospital where government troops had been holed up. The report could not be verified independently.

On Saturday, Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim said tribes around Misrata had given the army an ultimatum that if it could not defeat rebels in Misrata, their fighters would.

He said tribal leaders were angry that fighting had brought life and trade in the city to a standstill.

Troops had stopped fighting, he said, but had not withdrawn from the port city.

A ship has docked in Benghazi, the rebels' stronghold in eastern Libya, bringing 900 evacuees, most of them from Misrata. They include 19 injured people.

Between 2,000 and 3,000 people are still in Misrata's port area, awaiting evacuation, according to International Committee of the Red Cross official Francisco Javier Cepero.

One evacuee, Osama Miftah Misraty, spoke to AP: "We just could not remain in our home, missiles every day, and Grad missiles, and tank shells, and the children would cry and say 'Father, we're afraid, we're going to die'."

He said he was bringing his children to Benghazi after which he would return to Misrata for the rest of his relatives.

Tripoli hit

Nato aircraft carried out more air strikes on targets around the capital Tripoli on Saturday.

Image caption Nato planes, like these French jets in the Mediterranean, are running regular sorties over Libya

Foreign journalists reported seeing jets and hearing three strong explosions late in the evening.

Earlier in the day, the US confirmed the first strike by one of its unmanned drone aircraft over Libya, destroying a government rocket launcher near Misrata.

Nato said it had carried out more than 3,000 sorties since assuming control of the UN-backed mission to protect civilians late last month.

"We have struck a broad range of targets across the country - tanks and rocket launchers, armoured vehicles and ammunition stores, command and control sites," it said.

US Senator John McCain has urged America to step up involvement in air strikes on government forces Libya, warning that a prolonged conflict could draw in al-Qaeda.

He was speaking on a visit to Cairo shortly after Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US military's joint chiefs of staff, announced that coalition air strikes had "degraded" between 30 and 40% of Colonel Gaddafi's ground forces, and the conflict was "certainly moving towards a stalemate".

"I believe that with sufficient and efficient use of power we can bring Gaddafi to his knees," said Mr McCain, a former US presidential candidate.

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