(Adds quotes on port, detail)
TUNIS, April 14 (Reuters) - Forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi shelled the rebel-controlled port area in Misrata on Thursday, forcing its closure, an insurgent spokesman said.
“The port area was heavily shelled today and the destruction there is huge. I was there and saw for myself,” the spokesman called Ghassan said by phone.
“Over 200 Grad missiles fell on the port area, including residential neighborhoods near the port. They shelled this area because the port is Misrata’s only window to the outside world. The port was shut today because of the shelling.”
Misrata, 200 km (130 miles) east of Tripoli, is the country’s third biggest city and the last big rebel stronghold in the west of Libya. Surrounded by troops, with the port the only lifeline, it has been subjected to weeks of shelling and sniper fire.
“The port was shut in the morning and remains closed. The management decided to shut it down after it became clear that the shelling by pro-Gaddafi forces was deliberately targeting the port,” Ghassan said.
“Some hangars at the port suffered direct hits,” he said.
It is hard to independently verify accounts from western Libya because journalists are prevented from reporting freely.
Libyan officials say they are fighting armed militia with ties to al Qaeda bent on destroying the North African country.
Reporting by Joseph Nasr; Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian and Fredrik Dahl