Forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi mounted an intense artillery bombardment of rebel-held Misrata on Saturday and pro-Gaddafi troops attacked shops and homes in the city centre, residents said.
Misrata is the last big rebel stronghold in western Libya but after weeks of shelling and encirclement, government forces appear to be gradually loosening the rebels' hold on the city, despite Western air strikes on pro-Gadhafi targets there.
One resident said an attempt by government forces to take control of the city centre had been fought off by rebels, but that afterwards pro-Gadhafi forces started indiscriminate shelling of Misrata's port and the city centre.
"They used tanks, rocket-propelled grenades, mortar rounds and other projectiles to hit the city today. It was a random and very intense bombardment," a rebel spokesman called Sami told Reuters by telephone. "We no longer recognise the place. The destruction cannot be described."
"The pro-Gaddafi soldiers who made it inside the city through Tripoli Street are pillaging the place, the shops, even homes, and destroying everything in the process.
"They are targeting everyone, including civilians' homes. I don't know what to say, may Allah help us," he said.
Al-Jazeera quoted another rebel spokesman, Abdulbasset Abu Mzereiq, as saying five people had been killed, including a six-year-old child in a car hit by shellfire.
Accounts from Misrata, Libya's third biggest city, about 200 kilometres east of Tripoli, could not be independently verified because Libyan authorities have not allowed journalists to report freely from the city.
Misrata, like many cities across Libya, rejected Col. Gadhafi's rule in a revolt in February. In a violent crackdown, Col. Gadhafi's forces restored control in most places in western Libya, leaving Misrata cut off and surrounded.
The rebels say they still control the city centre and the sea port, but Gaddafi's forces have pushed into the centre along Tripoli Street, the main thoroughfare.
A resident described one person killed by shellfire on Friday who was brought to hospital "in pieces." He said pro-Gaddafi troops tried to enter the city from the east and west, and from the Mediterranean cost to the north.
"(This) was defeated by the brave rebels. After failing in this attempt as usual they (Gaddafi troops) began indiscriminate shelling which targeted the city centre and the port area and the surrounding areas," the resident told Reuters.
Another Misrata resident told Reuters in an email that the 32nd Brigade, one of the best-equipped and trained units in the Libyan armed forces, was attacking the city.
"So the question is where is the international community?" the resident asked.