Troops loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi “suspended operations” in the country’s third largest city of Misrata, Al Jazeera reported citing a Libyan deputy foreign minister.
The announcement, which many see as a face-saving measure, came amid reports that pro-government troops were pushed out of the city after a day of heavy fighting.
“The armed forces have not withdrawn from Misrata. They have simply suspended their operations,” deputy foreign minister Khaled Kaim was quoted as saying.
He said the move was to enable local tribes to find a peaceful solution, adding that if the rebels refuse to surrender within the next two days, tribesmen will fight them instead of the army.
“Gaddafi forces are moving back,” the TV channel quoted Safi Eddin al-Montaser, a rebel spokesman in Misrata, as saying. “People are still nervous because we don’t know the next step of Gaddafi’s forces.”
Al Jazeera said, citing locals, that “heavy fighting, shelling and explosions” took place in the east and south of Misrata throughout Saturday, leaving at least 25 people killed and more than 70 injured.
Despite dozens of sorties carried out by NATO aircraft against Gaddafi’s forces, the government troops maintain their combat capability and continue to pound poorly-equipped rebels with heavy artillery and rocket fire.
The Libyan National Transitional Council’s foreign relations department head, Ali al-Assaoui, said the rebels need military aid and weapons and did not rule out that “Arab, Muslim, and friendly forces on Libyan soil” may be needed to rout out Gaddafi.
MOSCOW, April 24 (RIA Novosti)