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Libyan forces destroy key fuel supply in Misurata

The loss of stored fuel in the rebel-held city in western Libya could lead to gasoline shortages and make an already dire humanitarian crisis worse.

May 08, 2011|By Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Benghazi, Libya — Forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi destroyed three huge fuel tanks in the besieged city of Misurata, aggravating an already dire humanitarian crisis there, the rebel leadership said Saturday.

The bombardment of the stored fuel could lead to critical shortages of gasoline for vehicles and fuel for electricity in the stricken city, said Jalal Gallal, an opposition spokesman in Benghazi, the rebel stronghold in eastern Libya.

Meanwhile, fighting in far western Libya again spilled into neighboring Tunisia, where the government strongly condemned the shelling of its territory.

A Tunisian communique said the government would act "to preserve [the] integrity of its national territory and security of its inhabitants and refugees," according to the official Tunisian press agency.

Libyan rebels have captured key swaths of the western highlands, including the city of Zintan, prompting a fierce government counterattack that has sent thousands of Libyans fleeing into Tunisia.

Late last month, Tunisia condemned a shelling and an incursion into its territory by 15 military vehicles carrying pro-Kadafi forces.

Misurata, the last major coastal city in western Libya in rebel hands, has been under siege from government forces for more than two months. Opposition leaders say scores have been killed in what they call indiscriminate, daily shelling by Kadafi's forces.

Misurata's lifeline has been its sprawling port, where supplies arrive and the injured and refugees depart. But the port has also come under attack from Kadafi forces positioned on the outskirts of town. Five refugees waiting for a humanitarian boatlift were killed by shelling last week, officials say.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which is waging an aerial campaign against Kadafi's forces as part of its U.N.-authorized mandate to protect civilians in Libya, has accused the government of laying mines in Misurata's harbor.

On Saturday, the rebel leadership alleged that a government helicopter bearing markings of the Red Cross had tried to lay mines in the harbor. The report remained unconfirmed. A NATO official said allies had heard about the purported incident and were investigating, but had not verified it. A ship did report seeing a helicopter in the Misurata area Thursday, the NATO official said, but it was unclear whose aircraft it was.

NATO is also enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya.

The rebel command has repeatedly urged its allies to provide insurgent forces with better armaments and equipment in their stalemate with Kadafi's better-armed, better-trained troops.

But the United States and other nations that have called for Kadafi to step down have been hesitant to arm the rebels, generally preferring to provide nonlethal, humanitarian aid. Several nations, including Britain, France and Italy, have also sent small contingents of military advisors to assist the rebels.

patrick.mcdonnell@latimes.com

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