NATO strikes force Gadhafi men retreat

  Fumes of fury: Burnt cars are seen next to a plume of black smoke in the port of Misrata, Libya on Wednesday. AP A ship waiting offshore to evacuate a thousand migrant workers from the city used a lull in shelling that has reduced large areas of the city to rubble to dock at the port. It was not immediately clear whether it had left before firing resumed.

Misrata, a western enclave offering a sealink to the eastern rebel heartland, is the focus of Muammar Gadhafi's drive to break a rebellion against his four-decade rule. But neither the Army nor rebels backed by British and French-led NATO air strikes have achieved a decisive victory in weeks of fighting.

“Gadhafi's forces retreated from the port area where they were positioned on Tuesday after air strikes by the NATO forces. The strikes destroyed 37 military vehicles,” Reda, the rebel spokesman, said.

“Gadhafi's forces this morning started bombarding an area about 10 km north of the city. It is known as the Steel area. The bombardment is still going on. They are using Grad missiles. Warplanes are flying over Misrata's outskirts but I don't hear any sound of strikes,” he said.

Grad missiles are Russian-made munitions fired in multiple volleys, usually from the back of trucks.

Aid ship docks

Hours before the shelling resumed, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said a vessel had docked in Misrata with the aim of evacuating Libyans wounded in the fighting, as well as migrant workers, to the eastern rebel heartland of Benghazi.

A rebel spokesman in Misrata said eight local people had been killed in fighting on Tuesday, up from the previous figure of three killed.

Military deadlock in Libya has exposed growing international rifts, with critics of NATO bombing calling it another case of the West trying to overthrow a regime by stretching the terms of a UN resolution. The rebels themselves have sometimes accused NATO of not doing enough to drive back Gadhafi's forces.

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