Thursday 14 December 2017

Government shells pound teetering rebel-held city

Souhail Karam and  Hamid Ould Ahmed

Residents of the rebel-held Libyan city of Misrata said government shells and snipers killed nine people yesterday and the hospital could not operate on the wounded because it had no anaesthetic.

Misrata, about 200 km east of Tripoli, is the last big rebel stronghold in the west of the country and people living there say forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi are still trying to retake the city, despite a ceasefire.

Residents said there was some shelling in the city yesterday morning -- though not as heavy as the previous day -- and one reported that seven people were killed.

The residents said that the encircled city was quiet by early evening but faced a humanitarian crisis because water supplies were cut for a third day. "The situation is calm for the moment. Tanks and armoured vehicles are still surrounding the city but they have stopped their attacks for a couple of hours now. The city is still under siege, even from the sea," said one local man.

He said he and his neighbours had welcomed news of the first French airstrikes to enforce the UN resolution.

"People are now optimistic and relieved. We are very grateful both to France and the EU for stepping in. Gaddafi's forces have carried out some barbaric acts here," he said.

Another resident, called Saadoun, said earlier pro-Gaddafi snipers shot dead two people from rooftops.

"I am telling you, we are scared and we are alone. We have two people dead this morning, not because of the shelling but because there are snipers on some houses and they are shooting people, they are shooting whoever they see," he said.

"This morning there was some shelling from two tanks and then it stopped but the destruction from yesterday's bombardment is huge. Destruction everywhere. Mosques and houses; nothing was spared.

"We are all scared here -- yes, the people of Misrata are scared. We feel a humanitarian crisis is coming... there has been no water for more than three days and we have no electricity."

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

Libyan government officials deny attacking rebels and say they are observing a ceasefire. Mohammed said four or five artillery shells had hit the city early yesterday. Gaddafi's forces were on the outskirts of the city, he said.

One man said seven people killed in yesterday shelling had been brought to Misrata's hospital. "We cannot tolerate it any more. Our hospital is in severe shortage: no medicine, no anaesthesia drug, the hospital is overcrowded, we cannot operate any more," he said.

Misrata is cut off from the main anti-Gaddafi stronghold in the east of Libya and since the revolt government forces have encircled the city. In the past few days they have been using artillery and tanks to try to retake it.

Saadoun described a city that had been devastated by the shelling and where people were struggling to stay alive.

"We have only one plant working and it doesn't feed the whole city so a big part of the city is without electricity. All communications are down," he said.

Sunday Independent

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