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Battle rages for key Libyan cities

Battle rages for key Libyan cities
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Tracer bullets lit up the sky over Tripoli on a fifth consecutive night of air strikes by the UN-backed international coalition force. Witnesses heard loud explosions and saw smoke rising from a military base to the east of the city.

Libyan television subsequently broadcast images of what it claimed was the devastation. Officials later showed journalists the bodies of 18 soldiers and civilians they claimed had been killed in the overnight raids. But the US says there have been no reports of civilian casualties as a result of the allied action.

People living in the western city of Misrata say Gaddafi’s tanks rolled back in after dark on Wednesday and resumed shelling a neighbourhood near the main hospital. Coalition air strikes had forced Gaddafi’s tanks to retreat earlier in the day.

Eye-witness reports suggest the air strikes may have destroyed some tanks around Misrata but not those inside the city. The coalition has been keen not to launch strikes in built-up areas to avoid civilian casualties.

Government snipers, who are almost impossible targets for coalition air strikes, also reappeared after the overnight bombing raids and carried on firing, killed at least 16 people according to the rebels.

Misrata is a key strategic town as it is the last remaining significant rebel stronghold in the west of Libya (see map below)

One witness said pro-Gaddafi forces had managed to take control of Misrata port, where thousands of Egyptian and sub-Saharan African migrant workers are still stranded.