Fighting rages as death toll in Tripoli mounts
Fri, 26 August 2011
TRIPOLI — Libyan opposition fighters battled government troops across Tripoli yesterday and stifle any counter-attack.
Machinegun bursts and the crack of sniper fire kept the capital’s two million civilians pinned indoors, with supplies running low.
More than 20,000 people have been killled in the six-month unrest in the country, opposition leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil opined yesterday.
“I do not have the exact figure, but the armed conflict has resulted in more than 20,000 dead,” said Abdel Jalil, head of the Transitional National Council.
Asked about the possible presence of chemical weapons in the country, he said there was nothing to fear.
“I know very well that those weapons have expired,” he said.
Hundreds of opposition fighters launched an attack on a Tripoli hideout of government forces, an AFP TV reporter said.
More than 300 fighters armed with Kalashnikov, rocket launchers and assault rifles streamed into the Abu Salim district where they traded fire with troops and launched a house-to-house search.
“Today we are freeing Abu Salim,” and “Today we will conquer Abu Salim,” the dissidents yelled as they headed into battle. Dissidents said they arrested two government fighters, accusing one of them of being a sniper. One dissident tore down one of the many green flags raised in support of the regime in the low-income district renowned for its political prison.
Two days after the headquarters of Col Muammar Gaddafi in the capital was intruded, his forces still appear to control his tribal home city of Sirte on the coast and were reported to be fighting at Sabha in the south. Gaddafi broadcast a message on Wednesday calling on Libyans to fight back against the Nato-backed forces.
Opposition leaders, offering a million-dollar reward, say the war will be over only when Gaddafi is found, “dead or alive”.
The ex-international high representative in Bosnia, Paddy Ashdown, said there was a need for speed if Libya was to avoid a lingering threat from the predecessor, unlike what transpired in the former Yugoslavia and Iraq.
“The best time to capture these defeated leaders is immediately after the conflict finishes,” Ashdown said. “The longer it takes the more chance they have of being spirited away to a place which is much more difficult to find.”
With fighting raging in Tripoli, there was evidence of the kind of bitter bloodletting in recent days that the opposition leaders are anxious to stop in the interests of uniting Libyans, including former Gaddafi supporters, in a democracy.
A correspondent counted 30 bodies at a site in central Tripoli. At least two had their hands bound. One was strapped to a hospital trolley. All the bodies had been riddled with bullets.
Elsewhere, a British medical worker said she had counted 17 bodies.
The French magazine Paris Match quoted an intelligence source saying Libyan commandos found evidence that he had stayed at a safe house which they raided on Wednesday. Nato was helping the opposition with intelligence and reconnaissance, Britain said, and its jets kept up their bombing campaign overnight.
“There are areas of resistance which has had considerable levels of military expertise, still has stockpiles of weapons and still has the ability for command and control,” British Defence Minister Liam Fox told Sky News.
“They may take some time to completely eliminate and it is likely there will be some frustrating days ahead.”
Medical supplies, never especially plentiful, were dwindling to critical levels in many places where some of the hundreds of casualties from the fighting were being treated. Shooting in the street also kept medics away from work.
“The hospitals that I’ve been to have been full of wounded — gunshot wounded,” said Jonathan Whittall, head of the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) mission to Libya.
“In one health facility that I visited, they had converted some houses next to the clinic into an in-patient department ... But because of the shortage of staff, there was no nursing staff and the patients were essentially caring for themselves.”
More than 30 men have been killed at a military encampment in central Tripoli and at least two were bound with plastic handcuffs, indicating they had been executed.
A correspondent counted 30 bodies riddled with bullets in an area of the Libyan capital where there had been fighting between Gaddafi forces and rebels.
Five of the dead were at a field hospital nearby, with one in an ambulance. Some of the dead wore military uniforms while others wore civilian clothes. Some were African men; Two of the bodies were charred beyond recognition.
The incident took place at a traffic circle in an area of Tripoli that had been held by forces loyal to Gaddafi.
The encampment was littered with abandoned food, weapons boxes and the shells of wrecked vehicles. Blankets had been placed over the dead.
Elsewhere in the city, a British medical worker said a hospital had received the bodies of 17 civilians believed to have been killed in recent days.
“Yesterday a truck arrived at the hospital with 17 dead bodies,” Kirsty Campbell of the International Medical Corps said at Mitiga hospital.
Amnesty International said yesterday a delegation it had sent to Libya received reports of abuses by both sides in the conflict, including detaining and beating migrants suspected of being mercenaries.
*Photo courtesy of Reuters