Libya: Rockets rain down on Misrata

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Media captionHospital staff say Colonel Gaddafi's forces are deliberately targeting civilians

Ali Matieg is tearing through the streets of the Libyan city of Misrata in a rattling ambulance, searching for the site of the latest rocket attack.

Four of them have just landed with a ripple of booms, somewhere in the city centre, sending clouds of brown smoke into the blue evening sky.

It is becoming a daily event in this rebel-held city, where a mood of confident defiance is quickly starting to sour.

The volunteer team in the ambulance stops briefly to ask for directions before arriving in a residential neighbourhood of apartment blocks, where a crowd has gathered to inspect a new, metre-deep hole in the street, and a wall riddled with shrapnel.

Image copyright BBC news grab
Image caption Suad Asheheh, seven months pregnant, lost a thumb and her arm was badly crushed in an attack

"We must leave now," says Dr Matieg, after establishing that no-one was injured here.

He urges people to return to their homes, concerned that another rocket may follow.

Fear is spreading fast again inside the besieged city.

The population endured weeks of sustained bombardment from forces loyal to Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi during the battle for Misrata.

But in May Col Gaddafi's troops were pushed back at least 25km (about 15 miles) and many here seemed convinced the rockets would not return.

'You must not film'

Now families are again on the move, looking for safe places to sleep; and as the fighting rages on the frontlines, the casualty figures soar, and the political bickering grows, the city is buzzing with increasingly dark rumours about fifth columnists and spies.

"You must not film," says one elderly man, who believes we might inadvertently help Col Gaddafi's forces to improve their targeting.

Many of the rockets are clearly aimed at the port, which is a lifeline both for civilians and for those fighting here.

Image copyright AP
Image caption On the frontline, rebel fighters fire rockets towards pro-Gaddafi troops

But I have seen and heard more than a dozen explosions in the heart of what remains a heavily populated city.

During the past week, local officials say, the rockets have killed two women and a man, and injured at least 11 people - including six children.

Twenty-six camels were also killed by one strike.

Suad Asheheh, seven months pregnant, lost a thumb and her arm was badly crushed when a rocket smashed into her kitchen.

On the remaining walls of her house are thousands of tiny pockmarks, caused by the ball-bearings which were packed inside the rocket, and fanned out on impact.

The rockets are believed to be truck-launched "Grads" - a familiar threat on the frontlines around the city.

But until a couple of weeks ago, it was thought that Misrata itself was out of range of Col Gaddafi's heavy weapons.

There is speculation that hit-and-run teams may be operating inside the frontlines, or that longer-range rockets have been brought in.

The rebels themselves seem to lack the equipment or training to locate and target the rocket launchers. Instead they continue to urge Nato to intensify its air campaign.

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