Alison Criado-Perez / MSF
A wounded Libyan is loaded onto a vessel bound for Tunisia on Sunday.
Libyans in the besieged city of Misrata are suffering a host of horrors at the hands of forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi, including beatings, rapes, summary executions and worsening food and medicine shortages, a spokesman for the opposition said Tuesday.
More than 1,000 people have been killed or are presumed dead in Misrata since the conflict began in early February, and another 100 are listed as missing, said the spokesman, who spoke on condition that he not be identified.
“The security situation remains grave, especially in particular areas where Gadhafi’s forces are still present -- whether in the form of heavy artillery tanks on the ground or in the form of groups of snipers positioned alongside some of the areas … very close to the city or in the suburbs,” he told msnbc.com via Skype from Libya’s third largest city.
Opposition fighters managed to repel an advance by Gadhafi forces from the east on Saturday, with the help of bombardments from coalition aircraft. But part of a food supply depot at the city’s port went up in flames. Though residents are grateful for the coalition’s help, they wanted to know why it did not act sooner.
“People are starting to question how come the response of the international coalition is not being … timely enough, but also well spread enough across the city boundaries and within the city center itself … to just eliminate this kind of threat to the city and its population,” the spokesman said.
If Gadhafi’s forces had taken the port – where many civilians have taken refuge -- it “could have had disastrous implications for the people of Misrata,” he said.
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said it evacuated 71 wounded people from the Misrata port on Sunday, including three on life support, 11 with major traumas and many others with abdominal wounds and open fractures. Intensive care was provided onboard until the boat reached Tunisia on Monday morning.
“We managed to dock at Misrata on Sunday afternoon, despite intense fighting in the city over the past few days,” Helmy Mekaoui, an MSF doctor who coordinated the medical evacuation, said in a statement. “The violence caused an influx of wounded people and it was fortunate we could be there and get them onboard.”
“There were burn victims, people with open fractures, and a variety of other injuries. Time was of the essence here, as we really needed to be back out in international waters before the sun went down,” said Annas Alamudi, a Doctors Without Borders logistician who participated in the emergency evacuation. “We got all the patients on board and were just about ready to depart when another group of patients arrived. It’s a good thing we were still there, as this group was the most critical. One man had an amputated leg and gunshot wounds; another man had a gunshot wound to the head.”
Alison Criado-Perez / Doctors Without Borders
Doctors tend to an injured Libyan evacuated from Mirata while sailing to Tunisia.
MSF said the hospital in Misrata reportedly came under bombardment early Sunday. Remaining clinics in the city were swamped with severely injured patients and were running desperately short of supplies.
The opposition spokesman said food shortages also were becoming common in the markets that are still operating. Fresh water is in short supply too, forcing people to rely “on really old methods in their water supply, whether digging wells or trying to just to operate old wells that have been abandoned for the last decade or so,” he said.
While the fighting remains a constant danger, residents are forced to take their lives into their hands in an effort to procure basic supplies, he said.
Schools were shuttered and few shops were open. People were trying to do their shopping between artillery barrages.
“There is no sign of back to normal life,” he said. “Everything is at a standstill in Misrata.”
Libyan officials deny attacking civilians in Misrata, saying they are fighting armed gangs linked to al Qaida, Reuters reported. The coalition has destroyed nearly one-third of Gadhafi's military since initiating air strikes last month, but NATO said it had to change bombing tactics because the Libyan forces were using civilians as human shields.
Misrata is now the priority for NATO air strikes, Reuters reported.
Amid the fighting, some of those abducted from Misrata by Gadhafi forces have been freed. One man, a farmer, reported being beaten with an electrical wire and being forced to chant “Gadhafi is God,” the opposition spokesman said. The farmer said an older man, a religious teacher, was summarily shot and killed for refusing to chant, while others, some of whom had opposition songs or images of the conflict in their cell phones -- were brutalized with cigarette burns and electric shocks, according to the spokesman. (As with nearly all reports from Misrata, the accounts could not be independently confirmed.)
The spokesman said there were known cases of gang-rape by Gadhafi mercenaries, including assaults on a married middle-aged woman and two sisters in their 20s.
“These are very, very sensitive issues for people to talk about in Libya generally, but in Misrata in particular … (it is) a very conservative society. People tend to not bring this up at all,” he said. “We’re pretty much sure that the large portion of the (rape) cases that took place are unreported because of this particular sensitivity.”
The spokesman said opposition forces were holding out hope that rebel fighters will reach Misrata soon, but they know a large battle looms first in Sirte, a major city to the east that is in control of Gadhafi loyalists. In the meantime, Misrata’s port was under heavy shelling and artillery fire once more on Tuesday, he said.
“The port area has always been a target by Gadhafi’s forces just to bring the city to its knees … just to make them starve,” he said. In addition, the Libyan army forces are attempting to completely encircle the city, “whereby we will surrender our lives to Gadhafi once again, which is basically something that will never happen as far as we are concerned.”
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