6 Mar 2011

Libya: Gaddafi forces and rebels locked in battle

After the bombardment of Zawiyah, rebels claim to be back in control. In Misratah there is testimony of Gaddafi troops firing on an ambulance. Meanwhile, fighting continues in Bin Jawad and Ras Lanuf.

A Libyan government spokesman told Channel 4 News tonight that all Libyan cities were back in government control – except for “small pockets of resistance”.

But Channel 4 News Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jonathan Rugman told Samirah Ahmed the town of Zawiyah, some 30 miles from Tripoli, was very much out of government control. Pro-Gaddafi forces have tried to recapture Zawiyah four times in the last three days, but without success.

Many of Zawiyah’s inhabitants have fled, and the centre of the town is littered with the debris of battle. And in the town square there are 20 graves, where there were just five a week ago. More have been freshly dug for the battles ahead.

A doctor at Zawiyah’s hospital told Jonathan Rugman the government forces were shooting to kill – “head, neck, and chest and upper abdomen”. He said he had seen more than 30 dead people in the hospital in the previous 48 hours. He added: ” We are talking about anti-tank missiles here used against civilians.”

Rebels within the town had captured and gained control of army tanks in preparation to use against expected further attacks on Zawiyah by Gaddafi controlled troops.

Channel 4 News also spoke to a doctor in the city of Misratah, some 200km to the east of Tripoli, the Libyan capital (see recording below).

He describes how pro-Gaddafi supporters arrived in cars and tanks this morning. “They shot everybody – unarmed people, people in their homes. There are a lot of shots in my home and my neighbour’s,” he says.

He went on to describe how government forces also fired at an ambulance, despte the fact that it was carrying a white flag. “We have now about 90 injured patients. About six killed,” he reports.

“The rest of them are injured in the arms and the shoulders and the legs. But, you know, we don’t know if in the next six hours we see more and more.”

Libya map

Latest reports from the city of Zawiyah, 50km west of the capital Tripoli, say rebels have repelled a fresh attack by forces loyal to President Gaddafi.

Misratah and Zawiyah are the two largest rebel-held population centres outside eastern Libya and are two potential stepping stones for the rebels towards Tripoli, the Libyan capital.

“The problem,” explained Jonathan Rugman, “is that you’re seeing vicious, drawn-out battles between two largely unprofessional sides, with civilian casualties caught in the middle.

“I don’t see any evidence any evidence of overwhelming force used by Gaddafi to take the towns back, but nor do I see any evidence of the rebels able to break out of those towns and move on to Tripoli itself.

We have something of a stalemate – and if anything, Gaddafi has force on his side. Jonathan Rugman

“So we have something of a stalemate – and if anything, Gaddafi has force on his side.”

Pro-government forces have also attacked opposition fighters in Bin Jawad, a coastal town between rebel-held Ras Lanuf and Sirte, Colonel Gaddafi’s home town.

Reports say the attackers used machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. A doctor at Ras Lanuf hospital said at least 15 hurt in the fighting this morning had arrived at the hospital.

Speaking on Channel 4 News on Saturday 5 March, Lindsey Hilsum warned that the worst fighting in the east of Libya was yet to come. She said Colonel Gaddafi’s forces were rumoured to be massing in the desert town of Sabah and could be heading up to Sirte.

UN continue united stand against Gaddafi

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon condemned further the violence in Libya and released a candid warning to Colonel Gaddafi and his forces in Libya.

In a prepared statement from Mr Ban’s office it was said that he “notes that civilians are bearing the brunt of the violence, and calls for an immediate halt to the government’s disproportionate use of force and indiscriminate attacks on civilian targets”.

This came in conjunction with the appointment Abdellilah al-Khatib, Jordan’s foreign minister, “to undertake urgent consultations with the authorities in Tripoli and in the region on the immediate humanitarian situation.”

Mr Ban re-asserted that “those who violate international humanitarian law or commit grave crimes must be held accountable.”