Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.

Gaddafi forces shell rebel city

Libyan government forces have pounded the outskirts of the rebel-held city of Misrata, killing at least 22 people, a hospital physician said today.

The doctor at Hikma Hospital said Muammar Gaddafi's forces used tanks, artillery and incendiary rockets yesterday in the bombardment of Dafniya, about 18 miles west of Misrata. He said at least 61 people were wounded in the attacks.

Gaddafi forces had renewed their shelling near Misrata on Wednesday. The city is one of the few footholds rebels have in western Libya and controls the country's largest port.

The doctor said residents had reported no sign of Nato aircraft in the Misrata region. There also were no reports of Nato strikes in Tripoli, the capital. Nato had been pounding Tripoli and the surrounding area in recent days, stepping up backing for the four-month-old rebel uprising that seeks to oust Gaddafi from power after four decades.

Rebels have taken control of swathes of eastern Libya, although fighting has since come to a stalemate even with Nato support. Misrata remained one of the most important rebel footholds in the Gaddafi controlled west.

Government forces are surrounding Misrata on all sides but the north, where the city has access to the Mediterranean Sea for supplies and food through Libya's major port. Rebels have beaten back several government attempts to retake the city.

Gaddafi forces are pushing back on rebel forces trying to break out of Misrata to the west toward Tripoli, where Gaddafi is increasingly cornered under Nato bombardment in the capital.

A rebel fighter in Misrata said Gaddafi's sons, Khamis and al-Moatassem, and top aid Abdullah al-Senoussi are in command of the operation in Zlitan, about nine miles from Dafinya. They are dug in trying to stop the rebel advance out of Misrata.

"The situation is very bad there. Gaddafi sent huge forces to Zlitan to fortify the city because he knows that if Zlitan falls in the hands of the rebels, the way to Tripoli will be wide open," Abdel-Salam said. "Now the ball is in the court of Nato, but we have not seen any Nato planes flying over despite the fierce battle."

According to Abdel-Salam, a bulk of Zlitan residents are Gaddafi loyalists.

Turkey's prime minister said in a TV interview broadcast yesterday that his country has offered Gaddafi guarantees if he were to leave Libya but has recieved no response. He did not detail what sort of guarantees.

"He has no other option but to leave Libya, with the condition that he is given certain guarantees. That's the picture," Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in the interview with the NTV channel.

"We have given him these guarantees; we said we will help you leave for wherever you would like."

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has urged Nato allies, including the Netherlands, to do more in Libya to share the burden with France and Britain, which are carrying out most of the air strikes.