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17 killed as Libyan rebels resist siege in Misrata

Holding out under a rain of shelling and sniper fire, Libyan rebels fought Moammar Gadhafi's forces Sunday in close-quarters battles in the city center of Misrata, the last major rebel foothold in western Libya. Seventeen people were killed, according to a foreign relief worker and an opposition activist.

Government troops have been laying siege to the city on Libya's Mediterranean coast for weeks, prompting repeated international warnings of a dire humanitarian situation, as well as calls for NATO forces to intensify airstrikes on Gadhafi's forces there.

Sunday, government troops, who have pushed into the city center from the outskirts in recent days, pounded Misrata with mortar rounds and rocket-propelled grenades, said resident Abdel-Salam, who only provided his given name for fear of retribution.

"Residents have become so accustomed to the sound of mortars and missiles," he said. "Snipers are still on the roofs of tall buildings shooting at anything that moves in the city center."

Rebels fought government forces back from an area around a central produce market, regaining a small sliver of territory, said Rida al-Montasser, a local activist reached by Skype.

He said a hospital report that he received from a doctor, showed 17 people, including rebels, were killed and 74 others were injured. He said Gadhafi forces had fired at the city's hospital Sunday.

A foreign relief worker who visited the hospital Sunday also said 17 bodies were brought in, including that of a girl shot in the head. Other children who had been shot were among the wounded, he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he feared for his safety.

Explosions thundered late into the night, al-Montasser said.

The NATO-led air campaign authorized by the United Nations to protect civilians and enforce a no-fly zone has failed to stop government shelling that, according to residents and witnesses, has hit Misrata's hospital, the port and residential areas.

The international airstrikes have kept rebels from being defeated on the battlefield by the better trained and equipped government forces, but it still has not been enough to turn the tide in the war. In the eastern half of Libya, rebels in control of most of that part of the country since the uprising began Feb. 15 have been unable to advance westward toward the capital.

The Libyan government has come under sharp international criticism for its assault on Misrata and has been accused by human rights groups of using heavy weapons, including artillery, missiles and cluster bombs. Such bombs can cause indiscriminate casualties and have been banned by many countries.

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