Bombed-out Sirte is a humanitarian disaster zone

Thousands of civilians are fleeing the Libyan city of Sirte en masse, as fighting between Gaddafi loyalists and the former rebel forces reaches a climax.

The two-week siege has given rise to an serious humanitarian situation in the city of 100,000 people.  The number of casualties and wounded among the civilians is unknown, but those who have escaped the city report of thousands of deaths.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF – Doctors Without Borders) reported this week that they have been in touch with medical personnel in Sirte and they say hospitals in the city are overflowing with the wounded. They also confirmed that medical supplies are scarce.

Reports say most of the refugees are heading for the comparative safety of the desert, leaving behind their belongings and livelihoods. Hundreds of families are streaming out of the city through its western entrance.

As they pass through, NTC troops are cross-checking them at block-posts in an attempt to eliminate all possible Gaddafi supporters.

According to NATO’s own figures, the bombing of Sirte resulted in 427 “key hits” from August 25 to September 29, so it can be said that at least that number of buildings have been destroyed within the city.

On top of that, anti-Gaddafi forces are shelling the city with everything they have at their disposal – tanks, artillery and Grad rockets – causing more death and destruction.

There are reports on Twitter that yesterday alone, more than 20 civilians – men, women and children – died in NATO bombings in Sirte and its defenders say they have video footage to prove it.

The refugees say Sirte is critically short of water, food and medicine, and there is now a very real threat of a new humanitarian disaster emerging.

Aid workers are rushing to the area, but continued fighting is preventing access.

The information we get from people getting out of Sirte is the food supply is very low, there is no water and no electricity and access to healthcare is very difficult,” said Dibeh Sakhr, a spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is close to the area.

Sakhr confirmed that Red Cross personnel have been trying to get to Sirte since last week. The organization does have all the humanitarian assistance that might be needed but so far they do not have the necessary security guarantees.

In the meantime, NTC commanders claim Gaddafi’s spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, has been captured in Sirte. It is not clear how this was achieved since NTC forces have failed to capture the city. Despite repeated attempts, they have so far only managed to secure control of Sirte’s airport and have suffered large casualties from sniper fire.