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Rediff.com  » News » 1,000 evacuated from Misurata amid pitched battle in Libya

1,000 evacuated from Misurata amid pitched battle in Libya

April 19, 2011 03:08 IST

Amid fierce battles between Gaddafi's troops and rebels on the eastern frontline of Ajdabiyah on Monday, nearly 1,000 foreign workers and wounded Libyans were evacuated from the besieged western city of Misurata that was pounded by the government forces.

Hundreds of migrant workers were among nearly 1,000 people evacuated from Misurata, the lone rebel bastion 214 kilometres east of the capital Tripoli that been under siege of Gaddafi's forces for over seven weeks.

The evacuated passengers also included 100 Libyans, among them 23 wounded in the fighting, the International Organisation for Migration said, adding at least 4,000 more are awaiting rescue and that the situation on the ground is getting increasingly difficult for further evacuation missions.

Pitched battle was on for the control of Libya's third-largest city Misurata, which came under heavy artillery attack from pro-government troops, after 17 people were reported to have been killed on Sunday.

The civil war, which erupted two months ago, has reached a stalemate, with neither side in a position to gain a decisive advantage amid a seesaw battle near Ajdabiya, the gateway to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

Aid workers and Misurata residents said the situation there is "dire" amid severe shortages of food, power, water and medicine, as the Libyan regime intensified their shelling of the city, BBC reported.

Britain's Department for International Development said approximately 300 civilians had been killed and a further 1,000 injured since late February in Misurata, which has been under siege of the pro-government troops for seven weeks.

However, media reports said 1,000 people are estimated to have been died in the fighting in Misurata and "80 per cent of the deaths are civilians".

There was no let up in the offensive on the rebels' outpost of Ajdabiyah, which is being used by the anti-Gaddafi forces as a staging post to regain the strategic oil port of Brega, 80-km west of Ajdabiya.

Rebels fought off an attack by government troops in Ajdabiya on Sunday, a day after retreating from the eastern frontline of Brega.

Gaddafi's forces advanced on Ajdabiya under a heavy artillery barrage in the morning and fought at close range with rebels on the towns southern outskirts before a counterattack forced them back, Al Jazeera quoted witnesses as saying.

The rebels have blamed the western alliance for failing to give them enough support. "Where are the NATO forces?" asked Absalam Hamid, who identified himself as a rebel captain.

"We don't know why they didn't bomb them," he was quoted as saying by the New York Times.

Meanwhile, the Libyan regime on Monday agreed to provide the United Nations access to Misurata amid fears of humanitarian crisis following weeks of heavy shelling by government forces.

UN Deputy Secretary General, Valerie Amos, held talks with the Libyan regime and asked them to cease hostilities to allow people leave and allow urgent medical supplies into the city, BBC said

In a significant development, the UN has reached an agreement for providing humanitarian aid to Misurata. The Special Envoy of the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to Libya Abdul Ilah Al-Khatib and the UN's top humanitarian affairs coordinator Amos visited Tripoli on Sunday.

"I am encouraged to report that, as a result, the UN yesterday reached an agreement on a humanitarian presence in Tripoli," Ban told reporters in Budapest.

Ban said that the UN had already established a humanitarian presence in Benghazi and now the Libyan authorities have agreed to establish a humanitarian presence in Tripoli.

"We will try to expand our humanitarian activities together with other international NGOs and humanitarian workers like the Red Cross and Red Crescent," he said.

An International Committee of the Red Cross team, led by Jean-Michel Monod who has headed the ICRC delegation in Tripoli for the last few weeks, reached Misurata to assess the deepening humanitarian crisis in the besieged city.

A month after the U.N. Security Council passed resolution 1973 authorizing use of force in Libya, top leaders of US, UK and France have vowed to intensify the military campaign in Libya to force Gaddafi to quit.

US President Barack Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron have earlier made it clear that there can be no peace in the country till Gaddafi stepped down.

"It is unthinkable that someone who has tried to massacre his own people can play a part in their future government," the leaders said in a jointly written article published in the International Herald Tribune on Thursday.

The fighting in Libya, which erupted two months ago, has reached a deadlock, with neither side in a position to gain a decisive advantage It has prompted the Obama administration to search for a country that would accept Gaddafi as the embattled leader has refused to quit.

"The move by the United States to find a haven for Colonel Gaddafi may help explain how the White House is trying to enforce President Obama's declaration that the Libyan leader must leave the country but without violating Mr Obamas refusal to put troops on the ground," The New York Times said.

Human Rights Watch has accused the Gaddafi's forces of targeting civilians by firing cluster bombs into residential areas.

However, the government has denied the allegations. Gaddafi's son Saif has hit out at western nations for the massive air strikes carried out in Libya. The world had gone to war with Libya based on nothing more than rumour and propaganda, Saif-al-Islam, the second son of Gaddafi, said in an interview to the Washington Post.

"So you go there and ask anybody. So everything was based on rumours. It's exactly like the WMD. WMD, WMD, WMD, go and attack Iraq. Now, civilians, civilians, civilians, go and attack Libya. It's the same thing, it's a repetition of history," said 38-year-old Saif.

Blaming the rebellion against his father's regime on al-Qaeda, Saif said the Americans, should have rather helped Libya root out the "terrorists".

Musa Ibrahim, the Libyan government spokesman also

blamed the Al Qaeda for the uprising against the embattled leader. The involvement of Al Qaeda in the conflict in Libya is proven every day," said Ibrahim during a news conference.

However, the Libyan rebels have played down allegations that there may be Al Qaeda fighters in their ranks. Amid the stalemate in the civil war, British Prime Minister David Cameron has said the terms of the UN resolution on Libya are a "restriction" on NATO which is enforcing a no-fly zone in a bid to protect civilians from Libyan forces.

"We're not occupying, we're not invading, that's not what we're about. And that is obviously a restriction on us, but I think it is the right restriction," he told Sky News.

"It's because we've said we're not going to invade, we're not going to occupy, this is more difficult in many ways, because we can't fully determine the outcome with what we have available," Cameron underlined.

A key meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Berlin last week saw several members rebuffing calls from France and Britain for additional combat aircraft for air strikes.

NATO, which has deployed nearly 200 aircraft for the military campaign, said it needed nine more attack jets to launch raids in Libya.

Only few of NATO's 28 members are taking part in the air strikes, with key nations such as Spain and Italy reluctant to be involved in the bombings on Gaddafi's forces.

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