Satellite image tells Misurata story

Al Jazeera English

by Al Jazeera English

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After the uprising in Libya began, the city of Misurata became an important strategic battlefield. It is the country's third largest city after the capital, Tripoli, and the rebel power base of Benghazi. It has been at the centre of a vicious tug-of-war between the two sides.

Around 300,000 people who live there were under virtual siege from mid-March until opposition forces were able to win control of the city over the last few weeks.

However, the city is still the scene of fighting and rebels say at least 10 people were killed and 40 wounded after Gaddafi forces shelled the east of the city on Friday.

During the seige, Gaddafi troops occupied the highways to the south of the city, cutting of its main supply routes from the east, west and south.

Misurata's port, to the northeast, also came under attack. It had become an important escape route for civilians and migrant workers seeking to escape the conflict in Libya.

But it also became a crucially important entry point for supplies shipped from Benghazi and beyond. Also in the northeast, the city's industrial centre and steel mill also came under attack.

After Gaddafi's troops imposed the siege, the front line became Tripoli Street, which leads from the southern highway into the city centre.

Government snipers took up positions in buildings along the busy commercial road and inflicted a number of casualties on rebel forces. Reports said they were using the city's tallest building, the Tameen office block, and the city's insurance building to pick off civlians and rebels.

Satellite imagery of the city reveals how Gaddafi's forces imposed a network of fortified roadblocks which knocked out the city's land based supply routes. In one case, they forged a body of water across the road.

Government forces also stationed dozens of tanks in southern Misurata to impose the siege.

On the afternoon of May 11, Libyan rebel forces seized control of the airport. Satellite photos show fighter jets and helicopters were destroyed by foreign airstrikes, although some remained intact.

This move appeared to have tipped the balance, and in the following weeks Libyan rebel forces were able to gain wider control of the city and break the siege.