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Once prosperous, Libyan city now bears many scars of war

From Frederik Pleitgen and Jonathan Wald, CNN
  • Buildings are riddled with bullet holes; wreckage litters the streets
  • Moammar Gadhafi's forces laid siege to the western city
  • Opposition fighters are outgunned
  • A CNN team gets a firsthand look

Misrata, Libya (CNN) -- Five weeks of battle and Misrata looks grim. Bullets have made Swiss cheese of buildings. Wreckage litters streets that are empty save opposition fighters desperately defending their city against Moammar Gadhafi's heavy armor.

The Libyan leader laid siege to the nation's third largest and most prosperous city after opposition fighters took control here. Just two hours east of Tripoli, it was the final rebel stronghold in the West.

Now it is a city of fear, uncertainty and human suffering.

International reporters had not been able to access central Misrata and many of CNN's reports were cobbled together from interviews with witnesses and doctors. That was until Wednesday, when CNN journalists were able to reach the city by boat.

The fishing trawler was commissioned by two wealthy Libyan businessmen to carry 150 tons of food, medicine and other basic supplies. A heart surgeon on board said he wants to do everything he can to help: Libya is in "mortal danger" and he could not stand by without doing his share.

Rare view inside Misrata's war zone
Besieged in Misrata, Libya
Medical aid headed to Misrata
CIA working the ground in Libya?
  • Libya
  • Moammar Gadhafi

Gadhafi's tank-supported forces lob shells into Misrata from their encampments. Rooftop snipers take aim at civilians from the Libyan Insurance Company building, Misrata's tallest, on Tripoli Street in the heart of the city. A green flag flutters atop, signifying support for Gadhafi.

One Misrata resident says Gadhafi's men are going door-to-door evicting and terrorizing people. It's "utter madness," he said Thursday, fearing a massacre.

Bullets zing through the air. Tension hangs thick and heavy.

An opposition fighter celebrates atop the carcass of a tank. Another shows the consequences of Gadhafi's heavy hand -- destroyed schools, restaurants, gas stations, fire stations.

Gadhafi's foes say they are outgunned and fight back with the few weapons they possess, including rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. They provided CNN with a video of a man disabling a tank with a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.

Despite the weapons disparity, the opposition has held onto an enclave in the city for several weeks. It's difficult, day to day, to know where the battlefront will be.

The evidence of war mounts everywhere.

At a relocated orphanage, children, traumatized by bombs and bullets, rock back and forth chanting "Allahu Akbar." (God is great.)

At a school, entire families displaced from their homes find comfort in one another. They have nothing else left of their lives, says Masoud el-Masoudi, who came to the shelter a week ago with his wife and three children after their house on Benghazi Street was shelled.

At a makeshift refugee camp next to the port, Libya's largest, foreign workers trapped in the nation's war simply try to survive each day. They are from places like Niger, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Egypt. They have nothing but the bread people bring them to feed their aching bellies, says Masahudu Idris, 29, of Ghana. The shops are empty and there is no food they can buy, he says.

At the central hospital -- where men, women and children lie in crowded rooms, forever scarred -- doctors work around the clock without proper equipment, medicine or even anesthesia.

"We don't go from here," says Dr. Ali el-Misrati. "We sleep here. We live here now."

The chief of the hospital, Dr. Mohammed Fortia, says 398 people have been killed in Misrata since the Libyan conflict began last month. Five were killed Wednesday, he says. He fears more have died. The hospital just doesn't know about them.

Mohammed, 12, and his older brother were wounded when mortars hit their home. Mohammed lost several fingers on his left hand. His right hand is gone. His father vows revenge.

"Gadhafi should be killed," he says.

A man who can do this to his people, Mohammed's father says, must not be human.

CNN's Moni Basu contributed to this report.

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