* French forces destroy seven Libyan aircraft on ground
* Port shelled with mortars, artillery-rebel
* Pro-Gaddafi snipers in city centre-resident
* City without water, food supplies dwindling
(Updates with French warplanes)
By Lamine Chikhi and Mariam Karouny
ALGIERS/BEIRUT, March 26 Forces loyal to Libyan
leader Muammar Gaddafi eased their attacks on rebel-held Misrata
on Saturday after Western coalition planes appeared in the skies
and hit some of their positions, rebels said.
French warplanes destroyed five Libyan military planes and
two helicopters at Misrata air base in the past 24 hours,
France's armed forces said. Spokesman Thierry Burkhard said all
seven Libyan aircraft were destroyed as they were preparing to
carry out attacks in the area. [ID:nLDE72P0H6]
"The shelling has stopped and now the warplanes of allies
are above the sky of Misrata. The shelling stopped when the
planes appeared in the sky. It seems this is their strategy,"
the rebel, Saadoun, told Reuters by telephone.
He had earlier said that pro-Gaddafi forces had launched
attacks from the west and east, shelling the city's port with
mortars and artillery.
Misrata is the only big rebel stronghold left in the west of
Libya and it is cut off from the main rebel force fighting
Gaddafi's troops in the east. It has been encircled and under
bombardment for weeks.
Western aircraft and missiles have been increasing their
raids on government positions in Misrata.
Saadoun said there had been heavy shelling as tanks advanced
from the coastal road towards the city while the port and areas
around it were shelled with mortars and artillery.
"It seems his (Gaddafi's) focus now is Misrata," he said.
"He pulled his forces out of Ajdabiyah and Brega so that he can
put all his weight in attacking Misrata and winning so he can
control the whole west versus losing the whole east."
"This means a massacre after massacre in Misrata and today
we saw its first chapter."
Rebels backed by coalition air strikes retook the strategic
town of Ajdabiyah on Saturday. Libyan rebels also said they had
seized control of the oil port of Brega, but there was no
SNIPERS ON ROOFTOPS
A resident said pro-Gaddafi snipers were still shooting at
people from rooftops in the centre of Misrata and that the death
toll among townspeople during the past week had reached 115
people, including several children.
"Gaddafi's men are still controlling the eastern and western
gates of the city of Misrata. Snipers continue to target
civilians," the resident said by phone.
"They are located on the rooftops of buildings downtown in
the city ... We've had 115 killed during the past week."
Reports from Misrata, Libya's third-biggest city about 200
km (130 miles) east of Tripoli, could not be verified.
Libyan officials say the rebels are armed gangs linked to al
Qaeda who are holding the people of the city hostage.
Accounts from people in Misrata portray a city where the
sound of artillery fire and automatic weapons rings out every
few minutes. Doctors at the clinic being used as a makeshift
hospital say they are so overwhelmed by the numbers of wounded
they have to operate in the corridors and people who have had
limbs amputated are sent home to make room for new patients.
One video clip posted on the Internet and identified as
coming from Misrata showed a children's hospital with a large
hole blown in the wall and, inside, baby incubators covered in
concrete dust and debris.
Misrata residents also say they are facing a humanitarian
crisis with dwindling food, and water supplies and electricity
now cut off. Libyan officials deny deliberately cutting power
and water to the city.
Aid agencies were able to bring in supplies via Misrata's
Mediterranean port earlier this week but it is uncertain if they
can deliver more because control over the port has see-sawed
between the rebels and pro-Gaddafi forces.
(Writing by Christian Lowe and Marie-Louise Gumuchian; editing
by Elizabeth Piper)