Libyan rebel city under attack tells of dire fate

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 22, 2011 3:33 PM
Libyan rebel city under attack tells of dire fate

By Hamid Ould Ahmed

ALGIERS (Reuters) - Doctors in Libya's rebel-held city of Misrata are operating on people with bullet and shrapnel wounds in hospital corridors after attacks by government forces killed dozens and wounded many more, residents said on Tuesday.

One resident, Mohamed, reached by telephone told Reuters 40 people were killed in shelling on Monday, and early on Tuesday tanks in the center of the city were firing again, killing three or four young children when the car they were in was hit.

Another resident, Saadoun, said the children were killed when they were being driven out of the city, but that the parents were safe.

"The children have been turned to pieces. We do not know which part is for which child. It's horrible. Horrible," said Saadoun. "Their father ... has collapsed and is in total shock."

Misrata, Libya's third city, has been under siege for weeks by forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Western airstrikes on a military base south of the town failed to halt the attacks, with pro-Gaddafi forces moving their armor into the city where it is harder to hit them from the air.

"The situation in the local hospital is disastrous," Aiman Abushahma, a doctor at Misrata Central Hospital, said in a statement. "The doctors and medical teams are exhausted beyond human physical ability and some of them cannot reach the hospital because of tanks and snipers in their way."

PLEA FOR SUPPLIES

He called for the urgent delivery of food and medical supplies: "The sea port is open now and all shipment(s) could reach it....also for urgency air convoys could reach the city within an hour from Europe."

Photos provided by a UK-based Libyan doctor who has been in touch with doctors in Misrata showed crowded conditions in the clinic, including several dead wrapped and tied in blankets, some with bare feet emerging from the end of the bundle. Other images showed close ups of the dead before they were covered.

"There is a catastrophic situation here," Mohamed told Reuters by telephone from the city about 200 km (130 miles) east of the capital.

A rebel spokesman described the chaotic scenes at the makeshift hospital, formerly a clinic.

"There is a shortage of staff and medicine. There aren't enough beds. There are no operating rooms so most of the surgeries are done in the hallways," said the spokesman, Mohammed Ahmed.

Residents said there were more than 100 people in a serious condition at the field hospital. They could not receive adequate treatment and were in need of evacuation.

Witnesses said doctors were forced to turn some wounded people away and others were treated on the floor because of the shortage of beds.

WOUNDED UNTREATED

Rebel spokesman Mohamed Ahmed said: "Many of the wounded are left untreated. There are many people who are shot in the leg or shoulder and are left with bullets or shrapnel inside them because there aren't enough staff to treat them."

Reports from Misrata could not be verified because Libyan authorities have prevented journalists reaching the city.

Libyan officials made no comment, though they have said in the past the rebels are al Qaeda militants assisted by Western powers who are trying to steal Libya's oil.

Resident Mohamed, who asked that his last name not be published, said Gaddafi loyalists shelled the city until mid-afternoon on Tuesday, when the sound of gunfire ceased. Snipers positioned on rooftops fired on civilians.

Tanks were positioned mainly in the south of the city, he said. Rebel fighters in Misrata destroyed five tanks in the last few days, but more remain in the city, mainly in and around its main thoroughfare.

Accounts pieced together from people inside Misrata described residents huddling in their homes amid fear they could be hit by rooftop snipers or tanks in the center of town firing shells if they go out.

Many residents have fled the fighting in the south of Misrata to the relatively quiet suburbs in the north. Many are staying in schools and other public buildings.

"Some shops are open, but they have little to offer. The shelves were emptied by panicking residents. People are living on emergency supplies. In a week or so we will have serious food shortages here," said Mohamed.

There were also reports that pro-Gaddafi forces had set up temporary bases at a vocational training institute and in the city's main hospital, which has been closed for maintenance for several years.

(Additional reporting by Mariam Karouny in Beirut and Joseph Nasr in Berlin; Writing by Adam Tanner; Editing by Jon Hemming, Ron Askew)