Besieged Libyan city at center of stalemate

Rebel-held Misurata takes battering

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Pounded by Moammar Gadhafi’s forces for nearly 50 days, the largest rebel-held city in western Libya has become a symbol, a coveted prize in a civil war gripped in a bloody stalemate.

Libyan army tanks and snipers battered Misurata again on Thursday, as rebels claimed NATO airstrikes in another part of Libya hit their forces in the second accidental attack in a week and as Turkey proposed a peace plan.

“If Misurata falls to the regime, Gadhafi will feel that he has strengthened his bargaining position,” Mohamed, a rebel spokesman in Misurata whose full name has been withheld out of concern for his safety, told The Washington Times on Thursday.

Misurata’s fight will define the unity of Libya,” he added.

“If we fail, Libya will be divided. If we succeed, Libya will never be divided.”

Residents of the city, located on the Mediterranean coast 130 miles east of Tripoli, have endured siegelike conditions since early February. During the last four weeks, pro-Gadhafi forces battered the city with tanks and snipers to inflict heavy casualties on civilians and poorly armed rebels, opposition sources said.

The rebels still hold most of the city of 300,000, but Col Gadhafi’s forces control a main road into Misurata and the center of town, according to rebel sources. They said more than 1,000 rebels have been killed and as many as 2,300 injured.

For Col. Gadhafi, winning back Misurata would mean complete domination over the west of Libya. And for the rebels, a victory would provide a much-needed boost to morale.

Col. Gadhafi’s advisers last month recommended the dictator seize Misurata and then partition the country. He would retain control of the west with Tripoli as its capital, and the opposition would get the east with Benghazi as its capital, according to rebel sources.

In Washington, Army Gen. Carter Ham, who led the mission in Libya until NATO took over last week, described the conflict as a stalemate.

At a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gen. Ham also warned against providing arms to the rebels without “a better understanding of exactly who the opposition force is.”

“My recommendation would be, we should know more about who they are before we make any determination to arm them,” he said.

Aid volunteers from Britain and Canada, who have been ferrying supplies to Misurata, described acute shortages of drinking water, medicine and food.

They began their mission by delivering medicine and baby formula.

“Now the situation is very bad,” said Munir, a member of the team who spoke to The Times from Malta.

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About the Author
Ashish Kumar Sen

Ashish Kumar Sen

Ashish Kumar Sen is a reporter covering foreign policy and international developments for The Washington Times.

Prior to joining The Times, Mr. Sen worked for publications in Asia and the Middle East. His work has appeared in a number of publications and online news sites including the British Broadcasting Corp., Asia Times Online and Outlook magazine.


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