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Gadhafi loyalists destroy crucial fuel tanks

BENGHAZI, Libya — Forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi destroyed three huge fuel tanks in the besieged city of Misrata, aggravating an already dire humanitarian crisis there, the rebel leadership said Saturday.

The bombardment of the stored fuel could lead to critical shortages of gasoline for vehicles and fuel for electricity in the stricken city, said Jalal el Gallal, an opposition spokesman in Benghazi, the rebel stronghold in eastern Libya.

Meanwhile, fighting in far western Libya again spilled into neighboring Tunisia, where the government strongly condemned the mortaring of its territory.

A Tunisian communique said the government would act "to preserve (the) integrity of its national territory and security of its inhabitants and refugees," according to the official Tunisian news agency.

Libyan rebels have captured key swaths of the western highlands, including the city of Zintan, prompting a fierce regime counterattack that has sent thousands of Libyans fleeing into Tunisia.

Misrata, the last major coastal city in western Libya in rebel hands, has been under siege from pro-regime forces for more than two months. Opposition leaders say scores have been killed in what they call indiscriminate, daily shelling by Gadhafi's forces.

Misrata's lifeline has been its sprawling port, which has been a conduit for supplies coming in and the departure of the injured and refugees. But the port also has come under shelling from Gadhafi forces positioned on the outskirts of town. Five refugees waiting for a humanitarian boatlift were killed by shelling earlier in the week, officials say.

On Saturday, the rebel leadership alleged that a government helicopter bearing markings of the Red Cross had tried to lay mines in the harbor. The report remained unconfirmed. A NATO official said allies had heard about the purported incident and were investigating, but had not verified it. A ship did report seeing a helicopter in the Misrata area Thursday, the NATO official said, but it was unclear whose aircraft it was.

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