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Mourning amid the celebration in Tripoli

By Amnesty International's Libya research team.

It’s hard to sleep at night here now because of armed men letting off countless rounds of celebratory gunfire. There’s much they’re overjoyed about - the latest victory, the capture of al-Gaddafi loyalists, or release of detainees from jail.

In the hospitals of al-Zawiya and Tripoli lie the numerous casualties from this kind of firing. The message that this behaviour is dangerous doesn’t seem to have got through yet.

Young children are being shot by accident - like eight year-old Mai’d Mahmoud al-Mashat, who was hit by a stray bullet in his thigh on the evening of 23 August in the Janzour neighbourhood of Tripoli. He was just sitting in his father’s car at the time, near the window. His neighbourhood was the site of anti-government protests in late February and that night they were celebrating the opposition advances.

Amid the noisy gunfire of celebration, there is also mourning for the dead. The heavy toll on civilians of the six-month conflict is only now emerging in areas that were out of reach for independent reporting. We learned that many residents of al-Zawiya were killed during confrontations between the opposition forces and those fighting for al-Gaddafi in late August.

We met relatives of Doctor Ali Hassan al-Khadrawi, who was killed on 13 August when his home in the residential area of ‘Arawi was shelled. The 54-year-old doctor was at home with his wife Maysa Fayez, and their 10-month-old daughter Maysoun, preparing to break their Ramadan fast, cooking in a small shed on their farm. The doctor’s eldest son was in the main house and heard explosions. He described to us how he found his family:

“I got worried and went to check on them. When I got there, the door was barred and I could hear Maysa screaming for help. I broke through the door and found my father lying in a pool of blood. My little sister lay dead on her bed as well. Maysa was alive and we rushed her to the hospital, but she didn’t make it.”

Another man, Mouftah Ahmed Toumi Farouj, was killed by shrapnel on 16 August when al-Gaddafi forces launched a barrage of mortars into al-Zawiya in a desperate and ultimately futile attempt to thwart rebel advances. We met his father who told us how he found him:

“At about 9:30am that morning, we heard several explosions nearby. When they stopped, Mouftah went outside to assess the damage and see if anyone in the neighbourhood was hurt. Ten minutes later, more explosions followed… I found him lying on the street near our home. When I saw him bleeding from his mouth, I realized that his injuries were fatal.  ”

In Tripoli, civilians have also been caught in crossfire in the latest battle for control of the city. Some were killed or injured at home when their neighbourhoods came under fire. Others were shot in the street, like 72-year-old Abdel Kader Ali Wehwah, who was walking to the neighbourhood mosque in the area of Sabri on the afternoon of 23 August he was shot in the thigh. There was no fighting in the area at the time. His neighbours believe that Abdel Kader was shot by snipers positioned in buildings nearby. Abdel Kader said:  “I am an old man. I have no weapons and I just want peace to return to Libya. Why did they shoot me?”

Civilians in the Abu Salim area of Tripoli, site of the most recent fighting in the city, were trapped between firing from both sides as opposition fighters clashed with remaining al-Gaddafi loyalists., Abdel Salam Mabrouk, along with his wife and three children, were fleeing their apartment on the third floor when their building was shelled on 25 August. When they reached the front entrance, Abdel Salem was shot in his stomach. Abdel Salam told us that the family could not leave Abu Salim to seek shelter elsewhere because they had no car, and none of their relatives could pick them up due to fuel shortages. After being wounded, Abdel Salam and his family were trapped in the area for several hours until the fighting subsided and he was taken to the Central Tripoli Hospital.

In eastern Tripoli, 30-year-old Jamila Ahmed was gravely injured in the stomach. She was standing on the roof of her house in Ghout Sha’l when a stray bullet hit her. He revealed how just getting to a hospital afterwards was a nightmare:

“I was bleeding and in pain, so my husband drove me to two hospitals: al-Khadhra and then Abu Salim, but both were empty and did not admit patients. We tried to get treatment at the Central Tripoli Hospital, but there was a long queue and doctors were overwhelmed by the huge number of causalities that day. We had to drive to al-Zawiya Hospital [some 40 kilometres away]. We took many detours to get there to avoid the bullets raining down from buildings, where snipers were positioned.”

Staff in two Tripoli hospitals told us that between 19 and 25 August, at least nine women and one child died as a result of gunshot wounds in Tripoli.

At the Central Tripoli Hospital, a man told Amnesty International: “ It is incredible to be able to speak to human rights organizations like you and to independent journalists, we were living in silence and fear for too long, but the price of this freedom is high.”