Misurata leaders say they have asked for foreign ground troops

April 19, 2011

The top governing committee in this besieged western city said Tuesday that it had made an official request for foreign troops on the ground here to stop the killing of civilians by Moammar Gaddafi’s forces.

The request, which a member of Misurata’s Judicial Committee said was sent last week, marks the first time ground troops have been formally sought in Libya as a humanitarian crisis looms in the strategic port city after a nearly two-month siege.

Food, water and gas are running out in Misurata as Gaddafi’s troops pummel power stations, water tanks, food storage units and other key infrastructure with rockets, mortars and artillery fire. An untrained and outgunned rebel force has been unable to halt shelling and sniper fire in residential neighborhoods. The city’s only opening to the outside world, the port, is under constant attack, routinely preventing access to it from land or sea.

“We need a force from NATO or the United Nations on the ground now,” committee member Nouri Abdullah Abdulati told reporters Tuesday.

Abdulati said that the Judicial Committee’s signed request had been sent to the Transitional National Council in Benghazi, the de facto capital of the opposition-controlled east, but that no reply had been received. The council, the only link between Misurata and NATO commanders, has said that it does not want foreign troops in Libya.

“We did not accept any foreign soldiers on our land. But that was before we faced the crimes of Gaddafi,” Abdulati said Tuesday. “We are asking on the basis of humanitarian and Islamic principles for someone to come and stop the killing. The whole Arab world is calling for the intervention of the West for the first time in history.”

More than 300 people have been killed in the city of 500,000, said Khaled Abu Falgha, the head of the medical committee based at Hikma Hospital. But he said the number is probably closer to 1,000, because many people bury their own dead.

Abdulati said the committee would want British or French troops to fight alongside rebel fighters in the city, both to protect civilians and to fight off Gaddafi forces. “It’s a situation of life or death,” he said. “If they don’t come, we will die.”

He said that Misurata residents are ready to die for their freedom and that they understand many would.

“Even if 400,000 people die and only 100,000 live, this is a victory,” he said.

As he spoke, explosions from rocket and mortar attacks could be heard, now a normal backdrop here. He said that the United Nations was obligated to send in troops to protect civilians.

“This is an urgent situation,” he said.

The evidence for that was all around him. Apartment buildings pocked with artillery fire stood abandoned in the coastal Jazeera neighborhood, now a ghost town. The lobby of one was spattered with the dried blood of a family of four. Cars were smashed and riddled with bullets.

In Zarooq, deemed one of the safest places in the city, men stood for hours in a bread line. Many said they had been displaced by constant rocket attacks on their homes in other parts of the city.

“Misurata is finished,” screamed Fathi Ali al-Arbud, 45, as he waited. “No one sleeps. Children die. Let America come here to save us. I don’t care if it’s Obama or Sarkozy. Someone needs to save us.”

Arbud recently fled from his neighborhood of Qasr Ahmed after dozens of rockets rained down on the area. Munin al-Atrash, 20, standing in front of him in line, said a tank shell had killed his closest friend and cousin the day before as he sat in front of his home.

“For freedom we will all die,” Atrash said.

Around the corner, Abdul Hamid al-Sabti served customers in his supermarket. There were no diapers, baby formula, pasta or biscuits left. There was no way to restock, and he expected to run out of food within 10 days.

Nearby, a group of engineers scrambled to try to deal with infrastructure problems. Gaddafi had cut off power to the city by bombing power stations and cutting cables. The group’s repairs have restored less than 20 percent of the city’s power needs, said Saleh el-Siwi, an architect who had joined forces with the engineers.

The industrial area near the port has sustained major rocket attacks targeting fuel storage units, a desalination plant and gas reservoirs, Siwi said.

Without electricity, the sewage system is not functioning, and Tuesday, trucks were pumping sewage from tanks and dumping it in a marshy area outside the city. In the suburbs, families were digging wells, although the water they supplied was mixed with sewage from septic tanks.

“We’ve assigned an engineer to each sector,” Siwi said. “Gaddafi is targeting our reservoirs of fuel. . . . He is killing us and everything — sheep, cows, even cats. He is very angry at Misurata, and he gave an order to destroy everything. He said, ‘I built everything in Misurata, and I will destroy everything in Misurata.’ ”

Fuel for generators is being rationed, and families must apply to the Judicial Committee for a permission slip for 20 liters of gas, enough for three hours of electricity.

“We need protection from the United Nations,” said Noura Ghaleb Amih, 35, as she left a food distribution center in Zarooq with bread, rice, tuna cans and tomato paste. She was displaced a month ago, she said, and had less than 80 dollars left to support her family of four.

“If they don’t protect us,” she said, “we will die.”

At the port, Ahlam Faraj sat, apparently shell-shocked. The 55-year-old woman had gone to the port for three days with her son to try to get out of the city. With every boom, she flinched.

“It’s so dangerous, so dangerous,” she said.

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