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Gaddafi shells mountain villages

A Libyan soldier stands in front of a building following an airstrike in Tripoli (AP)
A Libyan soldier stands in front of a building following an airstrike in Tripoli (AP)

Forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi have shelled villages and towns to try to take control of the high ground in a western mountain range.

A rebel fighter from a village near Yafrin said Gaddafi's forces were using Grad missiles and rocket launchers in their nearly month-long siege, leaving residents trapped and cut off from food and medical supplies.

"We dig trenches and hide in there at night," said BelJassem, who gave only his first name for fear of reprisals.

Yafrin, which is 75 miles south west of Tripoli, is one of the biggest cities in the Nafusa mountain range, home to the ethnic Berber minority.

Medghamas Abu-Zakhar, a rebel based in Yafrin, said Gaddafi's forces were shelling villages towards the top of the Nafusa range in an attempt to capture the high ground.

Yafrin is home to some 250,000 Berbers, said Fathi Abu-Zakhar, who is among the city's residents who fled the fighting. He said that two of his sons stayed behind.

"They are living under siege," he said. "No food and no medicine can get in. Even the injured have no way to get treatment since the only hospital has been shut down."

The reports from Yafrin came a day after Nato said it would step up psychological warfare operations to try to persuade troops loyal to Gaddafi to abandon the fight.

Wing Commander Mike Bracken, speaking in Naples, Italy, said Nato planes had been dropping leaflets and broadcasting messages to Libyan forces urging them "to return to their barracks and homes".

He said the messages had also advised pro-regime troops "to move away from any military equipment" that could be targeted by Nato's strike aircraft.

Press Association

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