By Umar Khan.
Tripoli, 22 October:
Libyans officials are trying to negotiate a temporary ceasefire to help facilitate the families who want to flee the fighting inside Bani Walid. Amid reports of random shelling, it is getting increasingly difficult to move about the town. It is also restricting hospital staff trying to get to the hospital. The ceasefire, if agreed by both sides, would allow the patients, families as well as hospital foreign staff to escape the fighting.
Conflicting reports have emerged from the town with many of the fleeing families saying the militias are trying to stop people from leaving. There are also claims that some were shot at from behind while escaping. However, many families have safely reached Tarhouna whilst some of those fleeing are being kept at the edge of the town while the arrangements are made to transfer them elsewhere.
Relief workers claim that around 5,000 families have so far left the city, many going across the scrub desert. Some of them had to walk half the journey when cars became stuck in the sand.
According to sources in the International Committee of the Red Cross, arrangements are being made to evacuate people from the town. Speaking with the Libya Herald on the condition of anonymity given the sensitive nature of the issue, a source said: “The international staff of the hospital feels threatened and wants to leave. We are in contact with both sides and will evacuate anybody who wants to leave the town but both sides have failed to provide the assurances that they will cease firing to allow us to go into the town.”
The foreign staff is insisting on leaving the hospital after shells landed very close to the building yesterday and today morning. According to the hospital staff, the security situation is very bad as shelling is getting closer by the day. “We are running short of supplies but the people have started to take the injured away because of the shelling. Some doctors were working in the hospital anyhow but the sound of the firing is too much. We feel scared.”
A doctor told the Libya Herald that retaliatory fire from the national army was falling very close to the building they wear sheltering in. He wanted to stay anonymous, fearing for his life. “We are contacting our embassies to evacuate us but the situation is not clear. It is not safe for us to travel outside of the town like this; we hope the army will come to help us. We are totally limited inside the hospital compound as it is too dangerous to go outside.”
However, on the ground there appears to be some progress. According to a senior military source, “the Libya Shield Brigade now effectively controls more than 60 percent of the town and very soon the whole town will be under the control of army.” He added: “This brigade is under the Ministry of Defense and thus the Army Chief directly. Rumours that a brigade from only one city is attacking Bani Walid are absolutely ridiculous.
“They (the Shield brigade) are working with us and the national army is not only providing them logistical support but also our regular soldiers are present on the ground, fighting to establish the writ of the government.”
Yesterday, it was reported that army forces on the outskirts of Bani Walid had created some safe passages out of the town to help Libyan and foreign civilians leave. The army was also said to be providing support facilities, including first aid
The Libyan General Staff Directorate said that large numbers of people were leaving. It added it was also trying to ensure that armed groups in the town did not use civilians as cover.
The largest group of foreigners in Bani Walid are Egyptians. Before the crisis there were over 1,000. Yesterday, the Libyan General Staff estimated that some 600 still remained in the town.
With added input by Ashraf Abdul Wahab.