By Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International’s Libya researcher
During the long road journey to Benghazi from Saloum in Egypt, I barely felt the impact of the ongoing conflict in Libya, but for a few checkpoints and some thuuwar (revolutionaries) practicing shooting Kalashnikov rifles into the open desert space.
Stores were open, people went about their daily activities; there were even some traffic jams around Marg. Upon arrival at the hotel in Benghazi, I was greeted with a bustling, almost jovial, atmosphere in the lobby.
That illusion of normality was quickly shattered the following morning during hospital visits, where the wounded from other parts of Libya were receiving treatment.At the Benghazi Medical Centre, the Amnesty International delegation met 29 year-old Hanan Mohamed who arrived from Misratah on 5 May on a ship chartered by the International Organization for Migration. The ship evacuated some 800 people, including foreign nationals stranded at Misratah’s port for weeks and over 40 wounded.
Hanan Mohamed had sustained multiple shrapnel injuries to both legs, as well as her right arm. She was relatively lucky; three of her relatives were killed when her home in the Garara area was hit by several projectiles which she believes to be Grad rockets, on 28 March. Hanan told Amnesty International that she had just finished her afternoon prayer, when she heard an explosion.
She ran to the porch along with her sister-in-law as another rocket hit. While Hanan sustained several shrapnel injuries, her sister-in-law Zeinab, a mother of five young children, was killed. As Hanan and her husband’s siblings – Abdallah, 25 and, Hawaa, 36 – were fleeing their home through the back door, a third projectile landed inside the living room. Abdallah and Hawaa were both killed.
Hanan’s mother-in-law sustained a minor shrapnel injury to her shoulder while Hanan herself was hit in the arm. Hanan said that prior to that day, Garara was considered “safe”, and many families from other parts of Misratah like Qasr Ahmed fled their own homes to Garara in hope of finding a safe shelter there.
In the Hawari hospital, Moussa Radou, 25, a migrant worker from Niger, was recovering from severe injuries he sustained during the shelling of the Misratah port on 26 April. He had been desperately waiting to be evacuated by ship for weeks and was living in a tent by the port along with thousands of other foreign nationals. According to his medical report, he was suffering from multiple “post explosive” injuries to his back and abdomen.
In recent weeks, forces loyal to Colonel Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi have stepped up their attacks on the port in a clear effort to cut off the last lifeline to the opposition-held city, which continues to be besieged by all sides but the sea. Over the last couple of days, pro-Gaddafi forces have fired anti-vehicle mines into the port in another attempt to further isolate the city and deprive its inhabitants of desperately needed humanitarian aid. Over a hundred foreign nationals are still believed to be stranded at the city’s port with little hope of reaching safety.
The suffering of Misratah residents dates back to late February, when anti-Gaddafi demonstrations shook the city. Moosab Mohamed El-Qadi, 30, was shot in the leg on 20 February, during a protest ignited after the funeral of Khaled Abushahma – the first protester to be killed in Misratah on 19 February.
Moosab told Amnesty International that he was standing some 500 metres away from the People’s Assembly, where forces loyal to Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi were positioned, when he was wounded. Moosab was evacuated to Turkey for medical treatment in April and later transferred to Benghazi. He is extremely concerned for the safety of his wife and two year-old son, back in Misratah. He has received no news about them for over two weeks.
Twenty-five year-old Abdallah Mohamed Abu Bakr was also recovering from a gun shot injury to his right leg sustained during a protest in Misratah. He told Amnesty International that he had taken part in a large protest march from Abdallah Gharib Street to Tripoli Street on 21 March, when forces loyal to Colonel Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi opened fire.
He said that he was shot while helping another injured protester. Like Moosab, he cannot easily communicate with his relatives as telephone networks have been cut off for over a month. His latest news from home provided no comfort. His uncle had been killed at home in the neighbourhood of Ras Ali, when the area was shelled.
As his concern for his relatives in Misratah continues, he can only hope that the international community will step up its efforts to protect the civilian population in Misratah and provide much needed relief for its isolated and beleaguered residents.