Human Rights Watch (HRW) has stated that soldiers loyal to Moammar Gaddafi are targeting and killing civilians during the government’s siege of the port city of Misrata, in direct defiance of international laws.
Gaddafi loyalists have also targeted a medical clinic in the besieged town, with even women, children and the elderly being murdered.
Misrata is the only city in the western part of Libya where the rebels have a relatively strong presence.
HRW said it has conducted interviews with two doctors who are still tending to the wounded in Misrata as well as 17 civilians who have been evacuated to Benghazi from the Misrata, which has a population of about 300,000 and has become cut off from the outside world.
The Libyan government's near siege of Misrata has not prevented reports of serious abuses getting out, said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. We've heard disturbing accounts of shelling and shooting at a clinic and in populated areas, killing civilians where no battle was raging.
HRW quoted Dr. Muhammad el-Fortia, who is employed at Misrata Hospital, who stated that 257 people have been killed and 949 wounded and hospitalized since February 19 in the city. The wounded included 22 women and eight children.
Another doctor believes the toll of dead and wounded is much higher given the fact that many residents cannot access hospitals or medical clinics.
The fighters know how to protect themselves, but the civilians are getting hurt, a doctor told HRW.
Civilians who were interviewed said Gaddafi’s army fired at them deliberately and indiscriminately – a direct violation of international humanitarian law.
Dr. Fortia also told HRW that government troops fired mortar rounds at the Misrata Polyclinic, even targeting the health facility with sniper fire, prompting its evacuation.
“It started that day with snipers who randomly shot people coming into the Polyclinic,” Fortia said.
“Some people were wounded but none died. Then two mortars came from the Libyan Insurance Company building. This attack did not hit the Polyclinic itself; one hit just outside the clinic, 20 meters from the mosque, and one hit right behind the clinic. A fragment from the second mortar killed Noureddin Elgally, who was bringing food by car to the clinic. So we evacuated the patients from the Polyclinic to a place far from the center of Misrata.”
Fortia added: “On April 7, another two mortars hit the Polyclinic, but this time one of them landed on the building itself. The first hit the parking area, and the fragments destroyed the emergency entrance where people were standing around. The second hit the Polyclinic building, and the fragments damaged the mobile operating theater. A hospital cafeteria worker, Mohamed el-Mugasabi, who was working as a guard of the evacuated clinic at the time, was killed in the attack.“
Gaddafi’s soldiers are even attacking civilians in areas where there have been no fighting.
Khalid Ali, told HRW that on March 29 he was shot by soldiers in the Gzeer neighborhood, where no fighting took place.
The people who took me to the clinic said that the sniper was positioned in the Thanuwayat El-Yarmuk school near where I was walking, he said.
HRW reported that based on other interviews it has ascertained that many citizens of Misrata have been detained by government troops and others are missing.
Muhammad el-Montaser, a Misrata city council member, told HRW that in mid-March 15, government forces arrested Dr. Hussein Sherkisi, one of Misrata's most prominent doctors. He has not been heard from since, Montaser added.
The Libyan government should allow safe passage for civilians who wish to leave Misrata, including migrants, said Whitson.
It is crucial that regular humanitarian aid be delivered by land and sea to a population in dire need.