Nearly 10,000 residents have fled Surt, the coastal Libyan city that is the birthplace of deposed Libyan leader Muammar el-Gaddafi and is one of the last holdouts against the new authority, the National Transitional Council (NTC). This weekend, NTC called for a 48-hour suspension of fighting to allow people to flee the city: Streams of vehicles packed with possessions, with children and elderly relatives crammed into backseats, lined the main road west out of Surt. People massed around two gas trucks to get a few liters to get them out of the city.
Most are supporters of Gaddafi and are “stressed“; as residents of Gaddafi’s own home town many are having their cars searched at NTC checkpoints. Some of those fleeing are staying in a desert camp just a few miles outside of Surt, so as not to be too far from their homes. Photos of those fleeing Surt can be seen via the BBC’s site.
Once civilians have been able to flee, the NTC says that it will launch a full-scale assault on Surt.
Within the city itself, there is little food and no electricity or water — that is, water that is safe for drinking. Dr. Siraj Assouri says that people are drinking water that is contaminated with waste oil — the city’s water reservoir has been damaged — and that there is simply “no medicine for heart disease or blood pressure or baby milk or nappies.” The hospital has neither electricity nor oxygen.
Four aid workers from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were able to enter Surt on Saturday and deliver medical kits and fuel to keep hospital generators running. But, due to heavy gunfire, the ICRC workers were unable to enter the hospital where about 200 patients are.
While NTC forces have been advancing closer to the center of Surt, pro-Gaddafi supporters still control about 40 percent of the city. The NTC has been saying for the past two weeks that it will soon take Surt, but has yet to do so. Gaining control of the city and of Bani Walif, another loyalist stronghold, has become an “increasingly urgent priority” for the NTC who has said that it will not “push ahead with plans for new interim cabinet and elections until the country is fully liberated.” As the efforts to take control of Surt and Bani Walid drag on, “increasing frustration” is rising among ordinary Libyans, while different factions and other individuals seek to gain influence.
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Photo of the Surt desert by Space & Light