x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Hundreds of evacuees reach Benghazi from besieged Misurata

Rebel-held Misurata has been surrounded by Qaddafi's forces for the past two months, with intense fighting as the two sides battle for control.

A wounded man evacuated from the besieged Libyan city of Misrata waits for an ambulance inside a ship at the port of the rebel stronghold of Benghazi yesterday after the vessel carrying 800 migrants and civilian casualties from Misrata docked in the city.
A wounded man evacuated from the besieged Libyan city of Misrata waits for an ambulance inside a ship at the port of the rebel stronghold of Benghazi yesterday after the vessel carrying 800 migrants and civilian casualties from Misrata docked in the city.

BENGHAZI // Hundreds of migrants and wounded people evacuated from the besieged city of Misurata reached the rebel bastion of Benghazi yesterday as key talks opened in Rome on sending funds to Libyan insurgents.

The Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi's forces have tightened the noose on Misurata, killing at least five people on Wednesday, after a more than two-month nationwide revolt which the International Criminal Court (ICC) said has cost "thousands" of lives.

A ship carrying 800 migrants and civilian casualties from Misurata docked in the eastern city of Benghazi, a day after hundreds more were turned back from boarding the Red Star when it anchored because of its limited capacity.

The vessel delivered 180 tonnes of desperately needed humanitarian aid, including food and medical supplies.

The aid ship, a lifeline for Misurata whose land and air access is cut, had waited offshore since late Saturday for security clearance to enter port, which has been repeatedly shelled by Colonel Qaddafi's forces.

The ship chartered by the the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) also brought out 50 injured passengers and a group of 20 journalists to Benghazi, the IOM said.

IOM staff in Geneva said they could clearly hear the sound of gunfire while they were in touch by satellite phone with their colleagues at the port during "heavy shelling" in Misurata on Wednesday.

With the airport in government hands, the rebels are entirely dependent on supply by sea.

Rebel-held Misurata has been surrounded by Colonel Qaddafi's forces for the past two months, with intense fighting as the two sides battle for control, as Nato minesweepers scour the waters offshore.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the chief prosecutor at the ICC, said in New York on Wednesday that Qaddafi's regime was carrying on with killings and persecution of civilians, vowing to seek arrest warrants for three people he did not name.

The Libyan government started preparations to counter pro-democracy protests weeks before they first broke out on February 15, alerted by popular uprisings in neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia, he told the UN Security Council.

"As early as January, mercenaries were being hired and brought into Libya," Mr Moreno-Ocampo said.

"Widespread and systematic attacks against the civilian population have been and continue to be committed in Libya, including murder and persecution, as crimes against humanity."

Saying he had witnesses, videos and photos to back his case, he promised to request "arrest warrants against three individuals who appear to bear the greatest criminal responsibility for crimes against humanity" in Libya.

Diplomats have said Col Qaddafi is likely to be on the first list of warrants.

The Libyan deputy foreign minister Khaled Kaim on Tuesday dismissed Mr Moreno-Ocampo's findings as biased before they were even revealed. "I'm sure that any decision or any conclusion... will be just a one-party position," he said.

Meanwhile, international powers agreed in Rome yesterday on a new fund to aid Libya's rebels, with the US and Europe promising to tap frozen assets of Col Qaddafi's regime despite still unresolved legal issues.

The Libya fund will initially receive donations and loans from the international community, while the assets - estimated at $30 billion (Dh110bn) for the US alone - will be used to finance it at a later date.

The council has lobbied for the credit lifeline from the West to stop it running out of funds amid a virtual halt to Libyan oil exports.

In Washington yesterday, the US government hit Libya's state broadcaster with sanctions. The Treasury Department listed the Libyan Jamahiriya Broadcasting Corporation under its sanctions regime against the Libyan government, blocking any of its property and assets in the United States and banning Americans from doing business with them.

"The United Nations and countries around the world are locking down the government of Libya's assets to prevent the Qaddafi regime from sponsoring further bloodshed," said the Treasury official, Adam Szubin.