Rebels set sights on Gaddafi’s hometown

Libyan leader’s whereabouts still unknown; Dozens of executions, abandoned bodies reported in capital.

By OREN KESSLER, REUTERS
August 28, 2011 02:25
Libyan rebels hunt Gaddafi

Libyan rebels hunt Gaddafi 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Libyan rebels on Saturday pledged to take Muammar Gaddafi’s hometown by force, while Tripoli residents struggled with dwindling supplies.

Meanwhile, more evidence emerged of summary killings during the battle for the capital, as well as reports of hundreds of wounded people abandoned in hospitals as medical crews fled fighting in the city.

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A correspondent for Britain’s Sky News said he had counted 53 bodies left in a burned-out warehouse, where they were apparently executed last week.

“It is a scene of mass murder,” Stuart Ramsay said at the scene, quoting witnesses as saying 150 people were killed there last Tuesday and Wednesday as rebel fighters fought pro- Gaddafi forces. A local told Sky the victims were mostly civilians and had been killed by Gaddafi’s forces.

Reports of cold-blooded killings by both sides have surfaced in the past few days, darkening the atmosphere in a city where many had greeted Gaddafi’s fall with joy. In one hospital, wounded patients lay on bare mattresses in bloodsoaked bandages amid a stench of blood and sweat. None was on an intravenous drip, although many had lost blood.

At the capital’s Abu Salim hospital, dozens of decomposing bodies still lay in and around the building after it was abandoned by medical staff during fighting. It was not clear how they had died.

Five bloated corpses lay on trolleys at the entrance to the emergency department, while 25 lay in the garden, wrapped in rugs and sprinkled with lime in a vain attempt to keep down the smell. Surgical masks and gloves were scattered on the ground. Ambulances were still parked in front of the hospital.

Gaddafi’s whereabouts remain unknown – rebels hunting him say the war will not end until the 69-year-old is captured or killed. Mustafa Abdel Jalil, head of the rebel National Transitional Council, told reporters in Benghazi: “We have no factual report about the whereabouts of Gaddafi and his sons.”

The NTC, which has told its fighters not to carry out revenge killings, is trying to assert its authority and restore order in Tripoli, but its top officials have yet to move there from their Benghazi headquarters in the East.

Rebel commanders are still negotiating with Gaddafi loyalists to try to persuade them to surrender control over the coastal city of Sirte, Gaddafi’s hometown, Abdel Jalil said.

Libya is effectively cut in two by pro-Gaddafi forces holding territory stretching southward from Sirte, 450 kilometers east of the capital, deep into the desert.

A rebel commander said forces advancing from the east had reached the edge of Bin Jawad, a town about 140 km.

from Sirte. “We are waiting for the people in Sirte to come out and talk, but we’ve got no answer up to now. I’ve been waiting for three days,” the commander said, adding that Sirte must be taken eventually, by force or peaceful means.

With rebel forces approaching from east and west, Gaddafiloyalists in Sirte could retreat into the desert and try to reach Sabha, another Gaddafi stronghold far to the South. “If they pull south to Sabha, we’ll follow them. We’re determined to clear the whole country,” the commander said.

The NTC and the Western powers that backed rebel forces with a five-month bombing campaign are acutely aware of the need to prevent Libya collapsing into the kind of chaos that plagued Iraq for years after the US-led invasion of 2003.

Life remains far from normal in Tripoli, whose two million people are grappling with a breakdown in basic services, even as many of them celebrate the overthrow of a hated leader.

“There are widespread shortages of fuel, food and medical supplies, particularly in the Nafusa Mountains and Tripoli,” UN Secretary-General Ban Kimoon said in New York.

Tripoli’s supply problems have worsened, even though NTC Chairman Abdel Jalil said on Thursday his forces had discovered huge stockpiles of food and medicine in the capital that would eliminate any shortfalls.

A rebel spokesman said diesel and cooking gas cargoes were on the way and that talks had taken place at the Zawiyah refinery to discuss ways to supply western Libya with gas and restart the refinery.

In Tripoli, stinking garbage was piled high in the streets. In some districts, people set it on fire to stave off disease. Electricity and running water were scarce. Residents carried containers to mosques, which often have wells, hoping to fill up. Outside one mosque, a sign read: “No water left.”

In Abu Salim, bullet casings littered a square. About 50 charred cars dotted the neighborhood.

The rebel council is pressing foreign powers to release Libyan funds frozen abroad to help it restore security, provide services and revive the economy after six months of conflict.

The United States and South Africa struck a deal on Thursday to allow the release of $1.5 billion in frozen Libya funds for humanitarian aid and other civilian needs. But Gaddafi’s long-time allies in Africa offered him a grain of comfort on Friday by refusing to follow Arab and Western powers in recognizing the NTC as the legal government.

South African President Jacob Zuma, a vocal advocate for Gaddafi, said the African Union could have prevented deaths in Libya if it had been given the chance. “We still believe that had the AU been allowed space to work, heavy loss of life would have been averted,” he said in a statement a day after chairing an AU meeting in Addis Ababa.

Late on Saturday, the rebel oil firm AGOCO said all five of Libya’s refineries were offline due to a lack of crude oil production and damage to facilities, leaving rebel forces wholly reliant on fuel imports. “No refineries are working. They can’t get crude oil. Some are in bad shape,” a spokesman said.


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