Bodies lay scattered in Libya’s rebel-held third city of Misrata and medics struggled to cope with the wounded yesterday after some of the bloodiest fighting of a two-month-old siege, rebels and residents said.
Following an intensive burst of shelling overnight, people emerged from homes after daybreak to scenes of devastation where Muammar Gaddafi’s forces had pulled back from the city under cover of blistering rocket and tank fire.
Medics said more than 20 people were killed in fighting on Sunday and 28 on Saturday. A rebel spokesman put the death toll even higher.
Three corpses were charred beyond recognition from the overnight shelling. A 10-year-old boy was killed as he slept. But many shells fell on waste ground, residents said. They said the bombardment stopped when NATO planes flew over.
“Bodies of Gaddafi’s troops are everywhere in the streets and in the buildings. We can’t tell how many. Some have been there for days,” said Mohammed Ibrahim, a resident whose cousin was killed at the weekend. He was speaking by phone.
Gaddafi’s forces said they were pulling back from Misrata late last week to hand over to local tribal forces, saying that NATO strikes had taken a toll on the soldiers.
Rebels claimed victory prematurely on Saturday.
Within hours, Misrata suffered some of the fiercest fighting of a siege in which hundreds of civilians have been killed and which has made the city a symbol of resistance for Gaddafi’s foes.
Misrata was the only major western city still in rebel hands and if Gaddafi’s troops are pushed back from there, it would be a significant setback for them.
Residents said the loyalist forces had now been pushed from Tripoli Street, centre of the recent battles, to the outskirts of the city, from where they were shelling occasionally when NATO planes were not around.
But residents were not sure the army had gone for good.
At Misrata’s main hospital, doctors struggled to treat scores of wounded.
A rebel spokesman, Sami, said the humanitarian situation was worsening rapidly.
“It is indescribable. The hospital is very small. It is full of wounded people, most of them are in critical condition,” he told Reuters by phone.
“The quantity of food available in the city is also decreasing. The state of the city is deteriorating because it has been under siege for about two months.”