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Heavy fighting as aid ship reaches Libya

BENGHAZI, Libya -- Rebels battled Moammar Gadhafi's forces yesterday on a deadlocked front line in eastern Libya, and welcomed the first supply ship in five days to reach the besieged western port city of Misrata.

The heavy fighting was reported south of Ajdabiya, a rebel-held town about 90 miles south of Benghazi, the rebel headquarters in the east.

Hundreds of rebels gathered at a checkpoint outside Ajdabiya in the afternoon, when an AP photographer counted about 100 pickup trucks coming back from the front, each carrying four or five fighters and some with mounted submachine guns.

The rebels, firing their weapons into the air as they shouted and danced, said they had been told that NATO was going to launch airstrikes on Gadhafi's forces and they had been ordered to withdraw temporarily from the front.

The cobbled-together rebel army, made up of some deserters from Gadhafi's forces and many civilians, has been bogged down for weeks in the area around Ajdabiya, unable to move on to the oil town of Brega. The rebels say their weapons cannot reach more than about 12 miles while Gadhafi's forces can fire rockets and shells up to twice that distance.

Yesterday, Gadhafi's forces shelled a northern neighborhood to which many families from the besieged city center have fled, said Abdel Salam, who identified himself as a resident-turned-fighter. The fighting was threatening the port area, the city's only lifeline, preventing some aid ships from docking, he said.

"We are in dire need for humanitarian and medical supplies. We also need arms and ammunition for self-defense," he said.

A ship carrying medical supplies and baby food was able to dock in Misrata yesterday, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. It was the first ship since Wednesday, when Gadhafi's forces fired rockets into the port as the International Organization of Migration was evacuating 1,000 people, mainly African migrant workers.

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