Libyan wounded describe Misrata ‘hell’

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Gaddafi forces using tanks and snipers are carrying out a “massacre” in Misrata with corpses on the streets and hospitals full of the wounded, evacuees said, with one describing the besieged city as “hell”.

Misrata, Libya’s third city, rose up with other towns against Muammar Gaddafi’s rule in mid-February, and it is now under attack by government troops after a violent crackdown put an end to most protests elsewhere in the west of the country.

“You have to visit Misrata to see the massacre by Gaddafi,” said Omar Boubaker, a 40-year-old engineer with a bullet wound to the leg, brought to the Tunisian port of Sfax by a French aid group. “Corpses are in the street. Hospitals are overflowing.”

Stalemate on the frontline of fighting in eastern Libya, defections from Gaddafi’s inner circle and the plight of civilians caught in fighting or facing food and fuel shortages prompted a flurry of diplomatic contacts to find a solution to the civil war.

But the evacuees from Misrata had more immediate concerns.

“I could live or die but I am thinking of my family and friends who are stranded in the hell of Misrata,” said tearful evacuee Abdullah Lacheeb, who had serious injuries to his pelvis and stomach and a bullet wound in his leg.

“Imagine, they use tanks against civilians. He (Gaddafi) is prepared to kill everyone there . . . I am thinking of my family.”

Swathed in bandages, evacuees gave some of the most detailed accounts yet of conditions in Misrata, the last major rebel-held city in western Libya which recalled sieges of towns and cities in the Bosnian conflict.

UN-mandated air strikes to protect civilians have so far failed to halt attacks by the Libyan army, which residents said stationed snipers on rooftops and fired mortars and artillery at populated areas of the city with devastating effect.

Libyan officials deny attacking civilians in Misrata, saying they are fighting armed gangs linked to al Qaeda. Accounts from Misrata cannot be independently verified as Libyan authorities are not allowing journalists to report freely from there.

A rebel spokesman said the city was shelled Monday.

“The shelling started in the early hours of the morning and it’s continuing, using mortars and artillery. This is pure terrorism. The shelling is targeting residential areas,” the spokesman, called Gemal, told Reuters by telephone, adding: “We know there are casualties but I don’t know how many.”

A Turkish ship that sailed into Misrata to rescue 250 wounded was protected by Turkish warplanes and warships and had to leave in a hurry after thousands pressed forward on the dock, pleading to be evacuated.

Another ship operated by Médecins Sans Frontières docked in Sfax in Tunisia with 71 wounded from Misrata. Many had bullet wounds and broken limbs.

One person’s face was totally disfigured by burns.

Fears of a massacre in Misrata are helping to propel efforts this week to try and secure a ceasefire in the North African oil-producing desert state. Sfax echoed to the sound of sirens as a stream of ambulances ferried the wounded to hospital. — Reuters