Misrata's front line a shattered landscape

Rebel fighters were today celebrating pushing loyalists out of Tripoli STreet in their makeshift armoured Jeep as they drive past a captured Gaddafi tank. (REUTERS)

Brahim Mufta and his five-year-old son walked along the blasted remains of Tripoli Street, the former front line between rebels and troops loyal to Libyan strongman Moamer Kadhafi in Misrata.

"When water and electricity come back, I will come back and restore my house," said Mufta.

Explosions rocked the outskirts of Libya's third city overnight on Monday and Tuesday, but none could be heard in the centre, providing a rare respite from endless days of shells and rockets screaming in from the sky.

Loyalist forces which had withdrawn to the outskirts of the besieged city signalled their continuing presence later on Tuesday, bombing the lifeline port and lobbing a new salvo of rockets and shells into the city centre.

Most of the buildings on Tripoli Street, which has suffered more than six weeks of clashes, stand gutted or riddled by gunfire, surrounded by debris strewn by the blast of high explosive.

Holding his small son Ismah by the hand, Mufta walked sadly along the main artery that was once his home address.

"I left 37 days ago with my family because there were snipers everywhere," he said.

The violence took a heavy toll on him, with "eight deaths in the family and a dozen missing, taken by Kadhafi's men."

Like many residents of Misrata, Mufta struggles to find the words capable of capturing the cruelty of the "dictator" who put his city under siege.

Mohammed, one of the rebel chiefs, said: "Yesterday, there were still major clashes here (in the Mussa neighbourhood) but Kadhafi's men are now close to the airport and on the western edge of the city where we are fighting."

He said the insurgents had chased Kadhafi's forces out of the public hospital which had been their base, and "fought them house by house before encircling a hundred of them."

The former notary, carrying a Kalashnikov and the weight of at least 50 years, said "most of Kadhafi's troops were killed or wounded" and that another "11 surrendered."

Misrata's main thoroughfare, where a vegetable market was reduced to a smoking ruin, is clogged by barricades built out of charred vehicles, containers, sandbags and assorted debris.

A gas tanker still burns and seven Russia T-72 tanks are damaged beyond repair, their turrets ripped off and their tracks twisted into blackened metal.

A grief-stricken Abdullah Ramadan surveyed the scorched remains of his shop that had sold truck parts.

"It was so hot that the metal melted," he said.

Residents believe the area must have been the target of a NATO air strike.

Across the road an eighth T-72 tank is in a garage where Smain Sadawi, 28, fiddled with a soldier's jacket stained with blood.

He said he took up arms after his family fled from "snipers firing at everyone," and after just three days' training is now two weeks into his new life as a revolutionary.

"My home is destroyed, but God willing, I will soon move back in," he said, hand on his firearm.

At the only shop miraculously left standing on a stretch of rubble more than a hundred metres (yards) long, deaf and dumb volunteers unload a truck full of food which was delivered by humanitarian aid ships to the city's lifeline port.

Elsewhere, Makluf Ali Mussa, a 54-year-old teacher of English, took stock of his losses.

"They have stolen everything," he said, standing in the courtyard of his wrecked home.

But the pain of material loss was nothing to the heart-wrenching concern Mussa has for his son.

"Kadhafi's men kidnapped him right in front of the house 21 days ago, and since then no one knows if he's alive or dead," he said.

Red Cross officials in Misrata say the conflict there has cost some 1,500 lives, mostly residents and rebel fighters, since February 19 when the city rose up against Kadhafi.

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