27 Mar 2011

Libya: rebels push west to take Ras Lanuf and Brega

Libyan rebels have retaken more territory from government forces. But in the town of Misrata a doctor tells Channel 4 News he is struggling to treat the number of civilians injured by Gaddafi troops.

The speed of the rebel advance suggests a rapid retreat by Gaddafi’s forces after they lost Ajdabiya.

In Brega, an oil town west of Ajdabiya, rebel fighters were distributing water from trucks to residents or picking over debris of ammunition boxes and tank parts abandoned by the Gaddafi forces. There were long queues at fuel stations.

A man who said he worked for the state-owned Sirte Oil Company but refused to give his name said Gaddafi troops had passed through without stopping and there had been no fighting.

The rebels’ advance is a rapid reversal of two weeks of losses and indicates that Western air strikes are shifting the battlefield dynamics in their favour.

An oil terminal is seen after it was retaken by rebels from Muammar Gaddafi's forces in Zueitina (Reuters)


Forces loyal to Gaddafi have resumed attacks on the rebel-held city of Misrata, ending a brief lull in fighting that followed Western air strikes, a resident told Reuters.

“Misrata is under attack, the city and the port area where thousands of workers are. We don’t know whether it’s artillery or mortars,” he said.

One doctor in Misrata told Channel 4 News he saw 22 people injured by snipers and tanks on Saturday.

“This week from Friday to Friday we have 115 dead. Sixty are civilians – by civilians we mean people in their home not even in the street.

We are treating people on the floor. We are using the operating theatre to operate on two or three patients at the same time. Misrata Doctor

“At the beginning of this week – one of our staff was coming to the hospital with his four children and a sniper shot him and all his children were killed. They spared just the father and mother.

He added: “Our hospital is in a very bad situation. we don’t have narcotics, we don’t have anaesthesia or sedation. Our hospital’s capacity is only 60 beds and we had to evacuate because shelling was to near to the hospital. We moved to a smaller private hospital which has a capacity of just 40 beds.

“We are treating people on the floor. We are using the operating theatre to operate on two or three patients at the same time. We are operating on trolleys not beds. Some patients we are operating on in the corridor. We are using the lights of the mobiles (phones) and the situation is very bad.

Gaddafi is ‘leading the battle'”

Libyan government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim told reporters in the capital Tripoli that Gaddafi was directing his forces but appeared to suggest the leader might be moving around the country so as to keep his whereabouts a mystery.

“He is leading the battle. He is leading the nation forward from anywhere in the country,” said Ibrahim.

“He has many offices, many places around Libya. I assure you he is leading the nation at this very moment and he is in continuous communication with everyone around the country.”

Asked if Gaddafi was constantly on the move, Ibrahim said: “It’s a time of war. In a time of war you act differently.”

Capturing Ajdabiya was a big morale boost for rebels a week after air strikes began to enforce a U.N.-mandated no-fly zone.

“This is a victory from God,” said Ali Mohamed, a 53-year-old teacher in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

Photo gallery - allied air strikes on Libya

“Insha’allah, we will be victorious. After two days, we will be in Tripoli,” he said.

Fouzi Dihoum, a catering company employee, said the rebels could push forward because the area between Ajdabiya and Sirte was desert in which Gaddafi forces were easy targets for planes.

“There is nowhere to hide. It’s an open area,” he said.

Libyan state television was on Sunday broadcasting pop songs and images of palm trees, wheatfields and vast construction projects completed in Gaddafi’s four decades in power.

Gaddafi himself has not been shown on television since he made a speech on Wednesday and his sons Saif al-Islam and Khamis, who earlier in the conflict spoke regularly to foreign media, have been out of sight even longer.