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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Rebels say they captured Misrata airport

Benghazi, Libya  Libyan rebels captured the airport in the besieged city of Misrata on Wednesday, a rebel spokesman in Benghazi said.
Shamsiddin Abdulmolah of the Transitional National Council said the airport, located in the southern region of the war-torn city, fell to "revolutionaries" after opposition fighters nearby in Zlaitin were able to join their counterparts in Misrata.
The capture of the location is key for the rebels fighting the forces of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi since it would provide important access for humanitarian aid.
Two months of fighting and the ongoing shelling of the Misrata port have prevented most aid ships from docking there, leaving the city "at the forefront" of U.N. humanitarian concerns, a top U.N. official told the Security Council this week.
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NATO warplanes and missiles have been pounding Gadhafi's forces since March as Gadhafi's troops try to quash a nearly three-month-old revolt against his regime, and the ferocity of the warfare in Misrata symbolizes the animosity between the pro- and anti-Gadhafi forces.
Abdulmolah said an unknown number of casualties occurred in the fighting. He also reported that the oil-rich town of Jakharrah fell overnight to opposition forces and that Gadhafi's forces are surrounded in the oasis area towns of Awjilah and Jalu.
The NATO mission is intended to enforce a U.N. Security Council resolution that calls for the protection of civilians. U.S. President Barack Obama and NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen will meet at the White House on Friday to discuss the alliance's role, the White House said on Wednesday.
In its latest news release on Wednesday, NATO said vehicle and ammunition storage facilities, a surface to air missile launcher and an anti-aircraft gun were hit in the Tripoli area. It also said ambulance storage facilities were struck in Mizdah and Qaryat.
As for Misrata, Marie Colvin, the Middle East correspondent for Britain's Sunday Times, told CNN that rebel forces defending the city from government troops are making "meter-by-meter" gains despite heavy shelling and rocket attacks.
Units that remain loyal to Gadhafi have been firing rockets and artillery shells into residential neighborhoods, leaving a nearby emergency room full of women, children and old men, she said.
"The rebels are very much trying, at a minimum, to push back Gadhafi's lines so he simply can't do that," Colvin said on Tuesday .
Meanwhile, the rebels are asking why NATO forces aren't targeting the pro-Gadhafi gunners.
As for aid, a ship carrying supplies from the International Committee of the Red Cross docked in Misrata on Tuesday, but the ongoing fighting has deterred many captains from trying to enter the port, Colvin said.
The ICRC said the vessel carried medical supplies, spare parts to repair water and electrical supply systems and 8,000 jars of baby food.
Meanwhile, on the front lines of the battle, bullets are whizzing past "like very angry hornets," Colvin said. At least 70 rebels have been wounded -- but they have held their line, "and meter by meter were able to advance," she said.
"They're defending their homes. They're defending their families, and they are not giving up an inch. They are fighting," Colvin said.
The first shipment of nonlethal aid from the United States to the Libyan opposition arrived Tuesday in Benghazi, U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.
It included more than 10,000 MREs -- meals ready to eat -- that are halal, permissible under Islamic law. Other items en route from the U.S. Defense Department include medical supplies, tents, uniforms, boots and personal protective gear.
Almost 750,000 people have fled the country amid the fighting, and another 58,000 are displaced within Libya, Valerie Amos, the U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, told the Security Council on Monday.
Another 5,000 are stranded at border crossings between Libya, Tunisia and Niger, Amos said. Others have tried to flee by sea, but one such attempt appears to have ended in disaster for hundreds of refugees as their ship capsized off the capital, Tripoli.

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