* Three people killed, six wounded - rebel
* Misrata is last big rebel stronghold in western Libya
* One witness says attack was repulsed
(Adds rebel on death toll)
By Souhail Karam
RABAT, April 1 Forces loyal to Libyan leader
Muammar Gaddafi mounted an intense artillery bombardment of
rebel-held Misrata on Friday and pro-Gaddafi troops attacked
shops and homes in the city centre, residents said.
Misrata is the last big rebel stronghold in western Libya
but after weeks of shelling and encirclement, government forces
appear to be gradually loosening the rebels' hold on the city,
despite Western air strikes on pro-Gaddafi targets there.
One resident said an attempt by government forces to take
control of the centre had been fought off by rebels but that
afterwards pro-Gaddafi forces started indiscriminate shelling of
Misrata's port and the city centre.
"They used tanks, rocket-propelled grenades, mortar rounds
and other projectiles to hit the city today. It was a random and
very intense bombardment," a rebel spokesman called Sami told
Reuters by telephone. "We no longer recognise the place. The
destruction cannot be described."
"The pro-Gaddafi soldiers who made it inside the city
through Tripoli Street are pillaging the place, the shops, even
homes, and destroying everything in the process.
"They are targeting everyone, including civilians' homes. I
don't know what to say, may Allah help us," he said.
Western warplanes have attacked an air base south of Misrata
where pro-Gaddafi forces have their main base, and residents
said at least one warship belonging to the international
anti-Gaddafi coalition was at anchor off the coast.
But locals have expressed growing frustration with the
coalition air strikes, saying they have done little to help the
situation on the ground.
"Air strikes are not enough. Can we wait until he kills all
of us? Everyday somebody is killed. This strategy is not
working," said Aiman, a doctor at a local hospital.
"Every day you lose a friend. What can I keep for my
children? There is no food, no medicine." He added that by
Friday night the shelling had stopped but government snipers
were occasionally shooting at people from rooftops.
Sami said only three people had been killed and six wounded
despite the intense fighting. "Today was a miracle because it
was one of the worst days," he said. "The hospital told us. The
killed and injured were civilians."
Al Jazeera television quoted another rebel spokesman,
Abdulbasset Abu Mzereiq, as saying five people had been killed,
including a six-year-old child in a car hit by shellfire.
Accounts from Misrata, Libya's third biggest city about 200
km (130 miles) east of Tripoli, could not be independently
verified because Libyan authorities have not allowed journalists
to travel to the city and report from it freely.
CITY CUT OFF
Misrata, like many cities across Libya, rejected Gaddafi's
rule in a revolt in February. In a violent crackdown, Gaddafi's
forces restored control in most places in western Libya, leaving
Misrata cut off and surrounded.
The rebels say they still control the city centre and the
sea port, but Gaddafi's forces have pushed into the centre along
Tripoli Street, the main thoroughfare.
A resident described one person killed by shellfire on
Friday who was brought to hospital "in pieces". He said
pro-Gaddafi troops tried to enter the city from the east and
west, and from the Mediterranean cost to the north.
"(This) was defeated by the brave rebels. After failing in
this attempt as usual they (Gaddafi troops) began indiscriminate
shelling which targeted the city centre and the port area and
the surrounding areas," the resident told Reuters.
A Libyan living abroad who is in touch with people in
Misrata said casualties had started arriving at the clinic in
the city which is being used as a makeshift hospital. He said:
"People are ... crying for help."
(Additional reporting by Maria Golovnina in Tripoli, Edmund
Blair in Cairo, Michael Georgy in Tunis and Joseph Nasr in
Berlin; writing by Christian Lowe; editing by Andrew Roche)