Gaddafi shells towns, rebels pinned down in east

Tue Mar 22, 2011 6:00pm EDT
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By Maria Golovnina and Michael Georgy

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Muammar Gaddafi's forces attacked two west Libyan towns, killing dozens, while rebels were pinned down in the east and NATO tried to resolve a dispute over who should lead the Western air campaign.

With anti-Gaddafi rebels struggling to capitalize on the ground on the strikes against Libyan tanks and air defenses from the air, Western countries had still to decide who would take over command once Washington pulled back in a few days.

In the latest fighting on Tuesday, Gaddafi's tanks shelled the rebel-held western town of Misrata and casualties included three children killed when their car was hit, residents said, adding the death toll for Monday alone had reached 40.

Residents painted a grim picture of the situation in Misrata, under siege by Gaddafi loyalists for weeks, with tanks in the city center and doctors operating on people with bullet and shrapnel wounds in hospital corridors.

"The situation here is very bad. Tanks started shelling the town this morning," a resident called Mohammed told Reuters by telephone from outside the city's hospital, adding: "Snipers are taking part in the operation too. A civilian car was destroyed killing three children on board, the oldest is aged 13 years."

Gaddafi, in his first appearance since the bombing campaign began, vowed to fight on. "We will be victorious in the end," he told crowds at his Tripoli compound who have volunteered to be human shields in a speech carried live television.

In the first Western air force loss of the campaign, a U.S. F-15E crashed in Libya overnight and its two crew members were rescued, the U.S. military said. The crash was likely to have been caused by mechanical failure and not hostile fire, it said.

Explosions and anti-aircraft fire have reverberated across Tripoli for the past three nights and state television reported several attacks by the "crusader enemy." Twenty Tomahawk missiles were fired at Libyan targets overnight, the U.S. military said.   Continued...

<p>A Libyan holds a poster of Libya's leader Muammar Gaddafi at a naval military facility damaged by coalition air strikes last night in eastern Tripoli, March 22, 2011. Editor's note: Picture taken on guided government tour. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra</p>