- Libya - Muammar Gaddafi - Turkey - unrest
Turkish ship evacuates injured rebels from Misrata
A Turkish aid ship has taken 250 wounded people from Misrata, the bloodiest front in the revolt against Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, to the rebel port of Benghazi. Witnesses spoke of a city under lockdown that has gone weeks without electricity or water.
AFP- The wounded men on the aid ship from the besieged city of Misrata, torn apart by shrapnel and bullets, tell of the bloodiest front in the revolt against Libya's Moamer Kadhafi.
They speak of a city under lockdown that has gone weeks without electricity or running water, where snipers have emptied the centre and mortar rounds and rockets rain down at random on residents huddled inside their homes.
The more than 250 patients were brought Sunday to the rebel port of Benghazi on board a Turkish aid ship, which was to pick up another 60 or so wounded people from the eastern front before steaming on to the Turkish port of Cesme.
On board, a pale Mohammed Muftah, 34, describes how he was sitting at home on a quiet Friday morning when a barrage of mortar rounds fired by Kadhafi's forces slammed into his residential neighbourhood.
"They killed entire families, women. I have a neighbour who lost his wife and his three children," he said. "They did it just to terrorise people."
Muftah has shrapnel wounds up and down his legs and in his back and neck, but soon he will receive further treatment in Turkey. His wife and six children are still in Misrata.
Mohammed Ahmed, 39, who sits on the mattress next to his, has a thick bandage around his right arm with surgical pins sticking out.
He says he was standing outside his home with friends and neighbours when a mortar bomb exploded next to them, the shrapnel killing six of his neighbours and carving off most of his upper arm.
"The doctor said it's serious... it's down to the bone," he says, as tears stream down his face and his voice breaks into sobbing.
"I'm with the revolution, but I don't have a gun... I just want freedom for my country."
Misrata has been virtually cut off from the outside world since the rebellion against Kadhafi's 41-year reign erupted in late February, and the regime has banned journalists from going there.
Mustafa Gheriani, a spokesman for the rebels' Transitional National Council, said the situation in Misrata was a "humanitarian catastrophe" and called on NATO to step up its air strikes on Kadhafi's forces there.
"Misrata people have stated that they are willing to take collateral damage, because they are at a point where they have no other choices," he told AFP.
Many of those aboard the ship are rebel fighters wounded in clashes with Kadhafi's forces, but they said their Kalashnikovs were no match for his tanks, rockets and mortars.
Mohammed Shanab, 28, was on the ship to interpret for his brother in law, Mustafa Hammadi, 46, who lost his left leg and his hearing when a shell slammed into the taxi he was driving.
"It's random shelling," Shanab says. "The rebels are concentrated in certain areas, but (loyalist) rockets were aimed at the centre of the city. They were targeting the hospital."
Doctors said last week that 200 people had been killed in Misrata since the fighting began, a figure that has likely risen in recent days.
Rebels control the eastern and northern areas of the city, which is dotted with checkpoints manned by teenage gunmen in chequered scarves, according to an AFP correspondent who was briefly able to enter last week.
It is the last major bastion of the rebellion in the western half of the country, while in the east Kadhafi's forces have halted the poorly trained and disorganised rebels outside the oil town of Brega.
Turkey organised the aid ship, which also brought medical and other basic supplies to the besieged city, for "humanitarian purposes", Ali Davutoglu, the Turkish consul general in Benghazi, told reporters.
The cruise liner will carry scores of other people, including those accompanying the wounded and 70 British, Finnish, German, Greek, Turkish, Ukrainian and Uzbek citizens.
Around a dozen doctors and nurses on board will tend to the patients until they reach Turkey, performing surgery if necessary, before transferring them to hospitals.
Hundreds of Benghazi residents had earlier cheered the ship as it neared the dock. Wounded rebels with arm casts and eye patches emerged on the upper decks and joined them in chanting "God is greatest".
"God has not forgotten the blood of the martyrs!... With our blood, with our souls, we sacrifice for you, Misrata!" the rebels shouted, as they were briefly reunited from across far-flung battle lines in a moment of shared joy.