Civilians flee oil town as Gaddafi forces advance
Panicked civilians abandoned a central Libyan oil town yesterday that has changed hands three times in the past nine days, fleeing an advance by pro-regime forces that threatened to wreak fresh destruction on their homes.
For more than a week, the residents of Ras Lanuf, a prosperous port, have withstood relentless artillery barrages, air raids and the presence of ill-disciplined fighters from both sides on their once-quiet streets.
Yesterday, they had had enough. Slinging suitcases and bundles of clothes into the back of their cars, they fled to sanctuary further east as rebels withdrew into the desert after appearing to give up hope of holding the town against Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's better-equipped forces.
But even in flight, Ras Lanuf's terrified residents could not escape the dangers from the skies above. A vehicle carrying three generations of the same family was thrown into the air by the force of a bomb dropped by one of the Libyan leader's fighter jets.
Ras Lanuf is so valued for its oil that Col Gaddafi denied access to the town to all but residents. It has emerged as one of the most contested battlefields of the conflict, and neither side seems strong enough to hold it.
People were forced to cower in their homes as the battle raged around them. Residents taking cover in a hospital said they did not know what to be more afraid of: the ill-disciplined rebels firing wildly into the air or Col Gaddafi's artillery and bombers.
"We did not ask for this," said Khaled Khamis, an engineer in the town. "We lived well here and we want to continue to work in peace." (© Daily Telegraph, London)