Libyans flee siege in Sirte

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Libyans flee siege in Sirte

SIRTE, Libya — Families in pickup trucks stacked with mattresses and jugs of water fled Muammar Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte Tuesday ahead of an expected new push by revolutionary forces to seize the city from die-hard loyalists of the fugitive leader.

By (AP)

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Published: Tue 20 Sep 2011, 6:29 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 1:53 AM

Fleeing residents said they had been living under a state of siege with Gaddafi’s forces preventing them from leaving while living conditions deteriorated and the city came under constant rocket fire and NATO bombardment.

“I tried to leave earlier with my family but Gaddafi’s forces wouldn’t let me,” said Abdullah Mohammed, a 34-year-old computer engineer traveling with his wife, two daughters and son. “We managed to run away at dawn by taking back roads out of the city.”

Youssef Ramadan, 35, said there has been no power since Aug. 20, a day before revolutionary forces swept into the capital Tripoli and forced Gaddafi into hiding.

“There’s no fuel and food is running low,” he said. “A lot of civilians are stuck in their houses because of the fighting.” Ramadan, who was taking his wife, 2-year-old daughter, 7-year-old son, brother and mother out of the city, said regime forces were using houses, schools and hospitals to store ammunition.

Tripoli fell to Gaddafi opponents in late August after a six-month civil war with NATO airstrikes aiding the rebels — marking the collapse of Gaddafi’s nearly 42-year rule. While Libya’s new leaders have control over much of the country, they have been unable to rout Gaddafi’s loyalists from Sirte and two other major strongholds.

The ousted Libyan leader tried to rally supporters from hiding on Tuesday, saying in an audio recording that his regime is still alive.

“What is happening in Libya is a charade gaining its legitimacy through airstrikes that will not last forever,” he said in the statement broadcast on the Syrian-based Al-Rai TV, which has become his mouthpiece. “It’s hard to bring down this regime because it represents millions of Libyans.”

Revolutionary fighters tried to push into Sirte, 250 miles (400 kilometers) southeast of Tripoli on the Mediterranean coast, over the weekend but were driven back by fierce rocket and gunfire. They pulled back to regroup, although both sides trade rocket and gunfire daily.

About 30 families were lined up to get fuel from a tanker parked about 12 miles outside Sirte with pickup trucks and cars packed with mattresses, water, crates of onions and suitcases in the back.

Abdul-Salam el-Ebadi, 44-year-old math teacher who lives on the outskirts of Sirte, said the former rebels were encouraging them to leave because they’re in the range of weapons from both sides.

“We hear a lot of fighting, but we don’t know where it is because we have to hide in our houses,” he said. He was leaving with his aging father in the passenger seat as part of a 10-car convoy of 50 to 60 people.

Revolutionary forces on the western outskirts of the city said they were encouraging residents to leave so they could move in with heavy weapons coming in from Misrata.

“Our guys are going inside the city to give the families what they need, water and fuel so they can leave,” field commander Mohammed Mebeggan said as NATO warplanes flew overhead. “We are giving them the opportunity to leave. Today is the last day.”

Hesham Samedi, a doctor at a field hospital in a mosque on Sirte’s western outskirts, said four people were killed and seven wounded on Tuesday, most hit by shrapnel.

The transitional government has insisted it will press forward with efforts to rebuild the government despite the continued fighting and the fighters have claimed successes. But Gaddafi’s continued defiance has raised fears the country could face a protracted insurgency such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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