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Sun 8 May 2011 09:30 PM

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NATO launches air strikes on Gaddafi weapons depot

Rebels say Libyan gov't weapons depot is hit near town of Zintin; heavy fighting near Misrata airport

NATO launches air strikes on Gaddafi weapons depot

NATO launched air strikes on Sunday against a Libyan government weapons depot near the rebel-held town of Zintan and heavy fighting was reported near Misrata airport in western Libya, rebel spokesmen said.

Zintan is in the Western Mountains region that has seen escalating conflict between forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi and rebels fighting to end his four decades in power.

"NATO struck weapons depots ... in an area which lies about 30 km (20 miles) southeast of Zintan. We heard a loud explosion ... I think the strike hit some of them (the depots)," the rebel spokesman who gave his name as Abdulrahman said by telephone.

There was no immediate comment from NATO.

"We are now at a cemetery burying 11 people martyred during yesterday's fighting in which 35 fighters were also wounded," he said from the town. There was rocket fire on the town on Saturday from pro-Gaddafi forces, the rebels said.

Rebels in the city of Misrata were engaged in intense fighting on Sunday with government forces near the airport, a rebel spokesman told Reuters.

"Fierce fighting is taking place now at the airport and in the air force college area (near the airport). We are still hearing sounds of artillery and rockets," the spokesman, called Abdelsalam, said from Misrata.

"NATO struck an area in the east of Misrata today but we do not have details," he said.

Fighting in other parts of Libya has reached stalemate despite weeks of NATO air strikes that aid rebels who hold Benghazi and other eastern towns but are besieged in the port city of Misrata in western Libya.

Gaddafi's forces are concealing tanks and artillery and using 'shoot and scoot' tactics in Misrata, frustrating NATO air efforts to break the weeks-long siege of the city, the rebels and NATO officials say.

Government forces have abandoned the city centre to the rebels but are entrenched in the built-up outskirts, sometimes firing from the open and scuttling for cover between buildings.

On Friday, the government bombarded fuel storage tanks for the city, sparking a huge fire.

Groups of rebels in Misrata surrendered to the government, the state-run Al-Jamahiriya television station said on Sunday in an apparent effort to capitalize on the strike's impact.

It gave no numbers but quoted a military spokesman as saying some of those who surrendered made recorded "confessions" that would be screened later.

The broadcast brought a swift rebuttal from rebels.

"This is a big lie. Nobody did this (surrendered) and nobody will do. We are steadfast and full of challenge. We will fight him (Gaddafi) til the end even with our nails and teeth if we have to," said spokesman Ahmed Hassan.

He acknowledged the fuel tank attack was causing problems

"The fuel is still burning and huge clouds of smoke are covering Misrata. This is causing breathing difficulties and threatens a major environmental problem in the city," he said by telephone from Misrata.

An Italian ship came to help extinguish the fire but could not dock because the port is closed and rebels were now at a loss to know how to combat the fire, he said. The port has come under heavy shelling from pro-Gaddafi forces.

Another flashpoint in the conflict, the Dehiba-Wazin border crossing linking Libya to Tunisia, was quiet on Sunday, a day after Libyan government munitions landed in Tunisian territory close to the town of Dehiba, a Reuters witness said.

Rebels hold the crossing but Gaddafi's forces are in charge of a far bigger one to the north.

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