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Rebels fight Gadhafi troops for Misrata

TRIPOLI, Libya -- Rebels battled Moammar Gadhafi's troops yesterday for control of central Misrata, driving dozens of snipers from tall buildings in hours of urban warfare and gaining a tactical advantage in the only major city held by the opposition in western Libya, witnesses said.

The Libyan government, meanwhile, ramped up its rhetoric against NATO, warning that "it will be hell" for the alliance if it sends in ground troops, even though Britain's prime minister said the Western nations were not moving toward such a deployment.

Also yesterday, rebels captured a Libyan border crossing into Tunisia, forcing government soldiers to flee over the frontier and possibly opening a new channel for opposition forces in Gadhafi's bastion in the western part of the country.

At least seven people were killed in fighting for the main Misrata thoroughfare of Tri-poli Street, bringing to 20 the number slain in three days in Libya's third-largest city.

Misrata has been besieged by government forces for nearly two months, with human rights groups estimating hundreds of people killed. Tripoli Street is where two Western photojournalists were killed Wednesday as the rebels tried to dislodge snipers loyal to Gadhafi perched on rooftops.

The street, which stretches from the heart of Misrata to a major highway southwest of the city of 300,000 people, has become a front line for the rebels and Gadhafi's forces.

The rebels took over several buildings along parts of the street, enabling them to cut off supplies to a Gadhafi unit and dozens of rooftop snipers who have terrorized civilians and kept them trapped in their homes, said a doctor who identified himself only as Ayman for fear of retaliation.

"This battle cost us lots of blood and martyrs," the doctor said.

Residents celebrated and chanted "God is great" after the snipers left a battle-scarred insurance building that is the highest point in central Misrata, according to a witness who identified himself only as Sohaib.

"Thanks to God, the snipers fled, leaving nothing behind at the insurance building after they were cut off from supplies -- ammunition, food and water -- for days," added another resident, Abdel Salam.

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