20 Aug 2011

‘Zawiyah – the most destroyed town I’ve seen’

International Editor

Lindsey Hilsum reports on the devastation visited upon the coastal town of Zawiyah as rebels press on to Tripoli.

The centre of Zawiyah has been devastated by six months of war. The buildings around Martyrs’ Square have been hit by tank shells and mortar rounds, and pockmarked by bullet holes. The discarded uniforms of Gaddafi soldiers lie amongst the rubble and shattered glass.

The square was almost deserted as we entered – several Grad rockets had just landed. Those who had been celebrating had disappeared. The rebels showed us four bodies, lying in alleyways.

They said they were African mercenaries who had been fighting for Colonel Gaddafi. There was a smell you can’t mistake, which stays in your nostrils and takes you back to other violent places where death hangs in the air.

Zawiyah rose against Colonel Gaddafi in February, and there will be many stories in the coming weeks of what happened when his troops re-entered the city to crush the rebellion. There’s more damage here than any other town I’ve yet seen in Libya.

Yesterday there was still street fighting in Zawiyah, but this war has suddenly picked up pace. The rebels are moving towards Tripoli on three fronts – from Zawiyah to the west, Gharyan to the south and Zlitan to the east. Families who can are fleeing the capital, amidst stories of looting and ill discipline by Gaddafi’s forces.

It feels like the endgame.