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Fighting halts Red Cross mission into Libya's Sirte

Oct 3, 2011, 3:38 a.m.

SIRTE, Libya (Reuters) - A Red Cross convoy trying to take medical supplies into Libya's besieged city of Sirte had to turn back on Monday because forces seeking to capture the city from fighters loyal to Muammar Gaddafi opened fire on the town.

Aid agencies say Sirte, Gaddafi's hometown, is suffering a humanitarian crisis because civilians are trapped inside by the fighting while food, water, fuel and medical supplies are running out.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) assembled a convoy of two trucks carrying aid, and accompanied by two four-wheel drive vehicles.

The convoy set off from a bridge a few kilometers (miles) west of Sirte, but came to a halt after traveling only about 100 metres because interim government forces started firing into the city.

They fired a heavy barrage of mortars, artillery, rocket-propelled grenades and anti-aircraft weapons just as the convoy was starting to move. The ICRC convoy turned and headed west, away from Sirte.

An anti-Gaddafi commander at the scene, Ismail Al-Sosi, told Reuters: "The rebels secured the way for the International Red Cross to go but as soon as they entered the city they returned because of the (pro-Gaddafi) militias firing."

"We did not start the firing. The militias started the firing," he said.

However, a Reuters team who witnessed the incident said they saw no incoming fire from the Gaddafi loyalists inside Sirte.

Speaking just before the aborted attempt to get supplies into the city, an ICRC official said the humanitarian situation there was dire.

"We're trying to provide medical assistance and oxygen to the hospital in Sirte," said Hishem Khadrawy. "We are really concerned about the medical situation because of the conflict."

(Reporting by Tim Gaynor; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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