Civillians pay the price as the battle for Sirte goes on

By Khadija Patel 12 October 2011

Libya’s rebel commanders claim they now control 80% of Sirte and they are confident that a victory in Muammar Gaddafi’s home town is just a few days away. In the meanwhile, civilians have borne the brunt of this protracted battle. By KHADIJA PATEL.

Valerie Amos, the UN’s humanitarian chief warned on Monday that civilians in the embattled Libyan city of Sirte faced shortages of water, food and medical supplies. Thousands of civilians have already fled the city during lulls in the fighting between Gaddafi loyalists and opposition forces, describing conditions in the city as a “disaster”. Many civilians are still trapped in the city and fear the rebels will seek to retaliate against them once the city has been won.

The Nato-enforced “No Fly Zone” is meant to protect civilians but the New York Times on Monday quoted the commander of Nato’s air campaign in Libya, Lt. Gen. Ralph J. Jodice II of the United States Air Force who said that the remnants of Gaddafi’s forces pose a “resilient and fierce” threat in the two remaining pro-Gaddafi strongholds of Sirte and neighbouring Bani Walid. He said Gaddafi loyalists were exploiting the urban settings to complicate the alliance’s mission to protect civilians.

The UN has thus appealed to both sides of the conflict to “spare civilians from the effects of hostilities, and to comply with international humanitarian law”. “The sick and injured must be allowed to seek and receive medical assistance, and both civilians and captured fighters must be treated with respect,” Amos said.

Gaddafi is himself not believed to be in Sirte but the National Transitional Council (NTC) believes his son Mutassim Gaddafi is heading the campaign against the rebel forces in Sirte.  Gaddafi is now thought to have fled south to the Sahara desert. The NTC will however not be awaiting Gaddafi’s capture to declare their victory. Instead, a victory in Sirte will be pronounced as a victory for the rebel movement.  For now, a victory in Sirte remains elusive.

On Tuesday the BBC reported that heavy rains and confusion among the rebels’ ranks conspired to halt progress into Sirte. In the uneasy impasse that ensued, hundreds of civilians, among them Moroccan and Tunisian migrant workers, fled the city. For thousands more, the battle is soon to resume. DM

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