Shortages "killing patients" in Libya siege hospital

Oct 2, 2011, 5:34 a.m.
Doctors treat the children of families fleeing from the fighting in Sirte at a medical center in Herawa, 70 km (43 miles) east of Sirte, October 1, 2011. REUTERS/Esam Al-Fetori

By Rania El Gamal and Tim Gaynor

SIRTE, Libya (Reuters) - People wounded in fighting in Libya's besieged city of Sirte are dying on the operating table because fuel for the hospital generator has run out, medical workers fleeing a worsening humanitarian crisis in the city said on Sunday.

The birth-place of deposed Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, Sirte is one of two towns still holding out against the country's new rulers and civilians are caught in the middle of fierce fighting now in its third week.

The interim government, or National Transitional Council (NTC), declared a two-day truce to allow civilians to escape, but people emerging from the city said they knew nothing of the ceasefire, and that the shooting had not stopped.

"Doctors start operating, then the power goes. They have a few liters of fuel for the generators, then the lights go out when they operate," said a man who gave his name as Al-Sadiq, who said he ran the dialysis unit at Sirte's main hospital.

"I saw a child of 14 die on the operating table because the power went out during the operation," he told Reuters on the western outskirts of the city.

Aid workers from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) who brought medical supplies into Sirte on Saturday could not reach the hospital because of shooting.

That hospital has now become the focus of concerns about the humanitarian crisis in the city, with residents describing how doctors are trying to treat civilians injured in the fighting without adequate supplies.

"It's a catastrophe. Patients are dying every day for need of oxygen," said Mohammed Shnaq, a biochemist at the hospital who fled early on Sunday during a lull in the shooting.

He said private pharmacies in Sirte handed over their supplies to the hospital after its own stocks ran out a week ago, but these were now running out too.


Libyans ended Gaddafi's 42-year rule in August when rebel fighters stormed the capital. Gaddafi and several of his sons are still at large, and his supporters hold Sirte and a second town of Bani Walid, south of Tripoli.

Gaddafi's supporters are too weak to re-gain power, but their resistance is frustrating the new rulers' efforts to start building the post-Gaddafi Libya.

While it needs to stamp out the last resistance swiftly, the NTC does not want to use indiscriminate shelling. The resulting casualties would hurt its standing and make it even harder to govern Libya's fractious tribes and regions.

Gaddafi loyalists and some civilians have blamed NATO air strikes and shelling by anti-Gaddafi forces for killing civilians in Sirte.

Both NATO and the NTC deny that and say it is the Gaddafi loyalists who are endangering civilians by using them as human shields.

Khalid Ahmed, who fled the city early on Sunday, said the residential area where he lives in the center of Sirte came under heavy artillery fire on Saturday, despite the declaration of a truce.

"The reason there is shooting in the city center is that Gaddafi militia has positioned artillery in the buildings where civilians live. The children are terrified and they are screaming all the time."

Most Recent