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Pro-Gadhafi forces resume attacks on Libyan rebels

A Libyan rebel flashes a V-sign in front of burning tank belonging to loyalist forces bombed by coalition air force in the town of Ajdabiya on March 26, 2011 as forces loyal to Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi were retreating after rebels recaptured the key eastern town in their first significant victory since the launch of the Western-led air strikes a week ago.

Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty Images/Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty Images

Eight people were killed when forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi resumed attacks on rebel-held Misrata on Sunday, ending a brief lull in fighting following Western air strikes, rebels and a resident said.

Pro-Gadhafi forces had eased their attacks on Misrata on Saturday after Western coalition planes appeared in the skies and hit some of their positions, rebels said.

A rebel said fighting between pro-Gadhafi forces and rebels had raged all day Sunday before stopping in the evening. Misrata resident Saadoun said eight people were killed and 24 wounded as pro-Gadhafi forces fired mortars when advancing from the west.

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"A massacre has been committed. The Gadhafi forces which were trying to advance to the city fired mortars and killed at least eight," he said by phone.

"24 people are wounded, most of them are in critical condition and they lost body parts."

Misrata is the only big rebel stronghold left in the west of Libya and it is cut off from the main rebel force fighting Mr. Gadhafi's troops in the east. It has been encircled and under bombardment for weeks.

A rebel, called Sami, earlier said that pro-Gadhafi forces fought with rebels in the centre of Misrata.

"All day long we heard clashes between rebels and Gadhafi forces in the area of Tripoli street, in the city centre," he said. "We heard tanks, mortars and light weapons being used."

Rebel spokesman Abdulbasset Abu Mzereiq said pro-Gadhafi forces tried to enter the city from the northwest, using tanks and armoured vehicles. Mohammed, a rebel, later said fighting stopped in the evening.

He said pro-Gadhafi forces controlled "only one small area, a couple of streets" in the western part of the city.

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"Ninety-nine per cent of the city is under our control," he said.

Western aircraft and missiles have been increasing their raids on government positions in Misrata. French warplanes destroyed five Libyan military planes and two helicopters at Misrata air base, France's armed forces said on Saturday.

"The air strikes are helping us. They dealt a blow to Gadhafi's forces and we feel relatively safe," Sami said.

"The rebels want to press ahead with their assault and force Gadhafi's men out of the city all together. But we need more time because of the snipers positioned on rooftops."

Sami said one person had been killed from sniper fire on Saturday.

The reports from Misrata, Libya's third-biggest city about 200 kilometres (130 miles) east of Tripoli, could not be verified.

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Libyan officials say the rebels are armed gangs linked to al-Qaeda who are holding the people of the city hostage.

A written newsflash on Libyan state television said "anti-terrorism units have arrested terrorist gangs that have been sowing fear among civilians in Misrata". It said the city was "now safe and life there has returned to normal".

Accounts from people in Misrata portray a city where the sound of artillery fire and automatic weapons rings out every few minutes. Doctors at the clinic being used as a makeshift hospital say they are so overwhelmed by the numbers of wounded they have to operate in the corridors and people who have had limbs amputated are sent home to make room for new patients.

Misrata residents also say they are facing a humanitarian crisis with dwindling food, and water supplies and electricity now cut off. Libyan officials deny deliberately cutting power and water to the city.

Aid agencies were able to bring in supplies via Misrata's Mediterranean port earlier this week but it is uncertain if they can deliver more because control over the port has see-sawed between the rebels and pro-Gadhafi forces.

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