Thursday 8 December 2016

Residents in the last of Gaddafi's strongholds fear rebel onslaught

Kim Sengupta in Abu Salim, Tripoli

Published 25/08/2011 | 05:00

THE missile smashed into the top floor of the house, punching a jagged hole. It sprayed the terrified people on the street below with shrapnel. Libya's revolutionaries were mounting their assault on the last stronghold of Muammar Gaddafi in Tripoli.

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There was no escape for the residents of Abu Salim, trapped as the fighting spread all around them.

"The rebels are saying they are fighting government troops here, but all those getting hurt are ordinary people, the only buildings being damaged are those of local people. . . Why are they doing this? They should be looking for Gaddafi, he is not here," said local Sama Abdessalam Basht.

Abu Salim is the location of a prison which inspired fear among Libyans for generations. In 1996, after a riot by inmates, more than 12,000 of them were slaughtered. Many of the dead were political prisoners accused of being Islamists. Most came from the east and 'the martyrs' has become a rallying cry for the uprising.

But Abu Salim is also deemed to be an area loyal to the regime and it has been one of the districts where the Gaddafi acolytes have distributed arms.

"Muammar has supporters here and for sure the government gave out guns. They also gave out money. But I don't think people are fighting for that, what good is money if you end up dead?" said Mohammed Selim Mohammed, a 38-year-old engineer.

As the battle unfolded at the district of Abu Salim, another drama was continuing in the nearby Rixos Hotel where 40 foreign journalists had been held hostage by regime troops. By yesterday afternoon the members of the media had been let out under the auspices of the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross).

Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the head of the opposition administration, the TNC (Transitional National Council), yesterday authorised a bounty of two million Libyan dinars (€1.13m) for anyone handing over the dictator "dead or alive". He also offered an amnesty to any of his entourage who would "kill or capture him".

Tactical

Gaddafi's response was to appear on a local television channel saying he had made a tactical retreat from Bab al-Aziziya. He vowed to fight on "until victory or martyrdom"

Rumours had swept through Tripoli that Saif al-Islam, Gaddafi's son, whom the TNC had claimed to have captured before his appearance at the Rixos Hotel, was organising ambushes.

A little further down the road, Amr Mohammed Bahudin called for more reflection. "We have the overwhelming number of our people supporting us. We have had the support of Nato. So why are there civilians in Abu Salim supporting him and fighting us?

"We need to find the answer or we will be fighting for a very long time." (© Independent News Service)

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