Tamil-run districts hit by air raids

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The Sri Lankan air force bombed Tamil Tiger-held areas in the country's east, rebel and military officials have confirmed.

The air force targeted Batticaloa district yesterday, some 56 miles south of a waterway where the two sides have fought for the past two weeks. An air force official said the strike was carried out to stop Tamil rebel movements to the waterway to support militants already there.

"We understand that there are several casualties, we are trying to collect information," said Seevarathnam Puleedevan, a senior rebel leader from the Tigers' northern headquarters.

The fighting on Thursday left 61 combatants dead, according to the two sides.

Mr Puleedevan said the the rebels had appealed to Norway for help in getting food and other essentials to 42,000 civilians trapped in fighting in areas around the waterway. "We have urged Norway to address the humanitarian needs of the civilians trapped here ... It is getting serious," he said.

The appeal came on the second day of intensified fighting at the waterway, where the military is trying to secure the canal after some of the worst clashes since the two sides signed a Norwegian-brokered cease-fire in 2002.