Libya’s Sirte Lacks Food, Water as NTC’s Fighters Pursue Siege

Libya’s Sirte Lacks Food as NTC’s Fighters Pursue Siege
A Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) fighter mans a machine gun fixed atop a truck on the frontline with the town of Bani-Walid on Sept. 11. Photographer: Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images

Living conditions inside Sirte, the Libyan coastal city held by forces loyal to Muammar Qaddafi, are deteriorating as food and water run low.

The Misrata Military Council, which helped direct a rebellion against Qaddafi’s forces, described conditions in his hometown of Sirte in a statement today. The anti-Qaddafi National Transitional Council has been trying for several weeks to negotiate the peaceful handover of Sirte, 450 kilometers (280 miles) southeast of Tripoli, and Bani Walid, 145 kilometers southeast of the capital, as its fighters lay siege to both.

“There is not much food inside, no water,” Khalifa, 20, a member of the opposition forces’ Misrata-based Sirte Brigade who declined to give his full name for fear of reprisals, said in an interview today after his escape from the city. “This week the electricity was cut off.”

More than six months of fighting to end Qaddafi’s 42-year rule have reduced oil output and disrupted power supplies in the country with Africa’s largest crude reserves. NTC forces remain on the highway to the east and west of Sirte, the Misrata Military Council said. They retain control of Waddan, 240 kilometers to the south, and have cut all highway links into the city for pro-Qaddafi forces, it said.

At the bases of anti-Qaddafi fighters who are trying to take Sirte and Bani Walid, more than 300 armed jeeps, as well as seven tanks and four artillery pieces, are ready to be deployed for a final push to gain control of the areas.

“We are still waiting, because we don’t want blood any more,” Khalifa said.

Loyalist Checkpoints

The fighter, in new combat pants and a green T-shirt, said he fled Sirte to join other comrades after making Qaddafi soldiers at a checkpoint west of Sirte believe he was going to Zam Zam, a settlement midway between pro-Qaddafi lines and rebel units 125 kilometers west. Once through the checkpoint, the road was open to rebel lines, Khalifa said.

The central district of Sirte, home to merchants originally from Misrata, was ringed by pro-Qaddafi checkpoints that prevented food from getting to the civilians within it. The streets of Sirte are patrolled by militia members from the Qaddafi tribe, which inhabits smaller villages in hills south of Sirte itself, and most of the loyalist soldiers are also from the tribe, Khalifa said.

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