The Libyan city of Bani Walid is reported to be under heavy attack from pro-government forces and militias. Witnesses say that more civilians are being killed by shelling, while houses are engulfed in flames.
Earlier reports suggested that the city had fallen, but continuing reports of wide-scale killing and armed gangs and militias patrolling the streets and looting people’s homes indicate that those reports are not true.
An individual in Italy who claims to have relatives in Bani Walid told RT earlier that at over 600 people have so far been killed while the number of people in hospitals is over 1,000.
A local told RT that the troops patrolling the streets were bulldozing homes and setting them on fire.
“Bani Walid was invaded by militias from Misrata,” a local woman said. “They destroyed everything; brought chaos, death and destruction with them. When families wanted to return to their homes these militias directed their guns towards them, shot at them, and they were all forced to flee.”
She also confirmed that the local hospital is incapable of treating the amount of wounded.
“We are unable to move the injured to other places for treatment because Misrata militias and their allies threaten to kill everybody who does so,” she said.
A local journalist reporting from the outskirts of the city, because no media are allowed to enter the city, told RT that thousands of people are stranded on the desert highway outside the city after they tried to return to Bani Walid in a confusion over whether or not the city had fallen.
Refugees are being prevented from going back into the city by army roadblocks.
While the army claims that it is targeting the city in order to rid it of pro-Gaddafi forces, many who have been injured or killed are children, women and the elderly. Meanwhile, reports continue to emerge about troops using unconventional weapons in the city. A local activist told RT that the army is preventing media from entering Bani Walid simply because they fear the press might report their “crimes and terrible deeds.”
“I can confirm that pro-government militias used internationally prohibited weapons. They used phosphorus bombs and nerve gas,” Afaf Yusef, an activist from Bani Walid, told RT. “We have documented all this in videos – we recorded the missiles they used and the white phosphorus raining down from these missiles.”
Many people died without being wounded or shot but as a result of gases, he said.
“The whole world needs to see who they are targeting,” he added. “Are they really Gaddafi’s men? Are the children, women and old men killed, Gaddafi’s men?”
Those trapped in Bani Walid have been crying out to the United Nations for help, but they are not being heard, with the UN Mission in Libya saying it has no men in the city and cannot provide any additional information on what is happening on the ground. The director of the UN mission refused to comment on why they were not inside the city.
Meanwhile, when asked why the West is ignoring the massacres in Bani Walid, US Department of State Spokesperson Victoria Nuland told RT that Washington is “watching the situation very closely” while its position on the situation remains “absolutely clear.”
“We support the efforts of the Libyan government to get control of militias and to provide security throughout the country, including in Bani Walid, and to do so in a way that is respectful of the human rights of all citizens and allows humanitarian organizations to get in,” Nuland said.
Despite the claims that it is following the situation closely, the last time Bani Walid was mentioned on the US State Department’s website at the beginning of this year.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said he is not concerned by the fact that the Libyan Army is deployed inside the city, but rather worried about the authorities and human rights violations that are reportedly taking place. He also urged the United Nations to provide information on what is really going on the ground.
As the United States and other powers are failing to condemn the excessive use of force in the city, many questions remain about why they are silent about human rights abuses taking place in Bani Walid. Also, earlier this week, Washington blocked a draft statement proposed by Russia on the resolution calling for a peaceful solution to the conflict in Bani Walid.
An injured man in Bani Walid (RT source)
An injured man in Bani Walid (RT source)
The battle cries in Libya
Were it not a humanitar-ian disaster, one would be tempted to call it a battle of the soundtracks. For, as from last Friday, as the battle for Bani Walid grew harsher and the respective TV stations of Bani Walid and Misurata broadcast ‘no comment’ footage related to the battle, it was the intermittent background music that organised the ambiguous images into two contrasting stories.
Dardaneel is Bani Walid’s TV station, named after the nickname it earned from the Italians – the Dardanelles of Libya – for its stiff anti-colonial resistance in 1923. Its main broadcasts after Friday, when the town began to be shelled heavily from three sides, have been of funerals, of tours of the hospital morgue, with close-ups of dead children and adults with gruesome wounds and of mosques and homes hit by what is claimed to be indiscriminate shelling.
Such broadcasts usually have a running commentary. The father of a small boy testifies besides the mangled corpse how, last Sunday, his son was simply sitting outside the house. Others walk the viewer through the mosque where a group of men were saying their Friday prayers, pointing at the blood-stained carpet or else through a half-wrecked home which, pointedly, is full of stickers of the flag of the (anti-Gaddafi) February 17 revolution. Fighters, walking through positions previously held by fighters from Misurata, point at two abandoned gas masks.
At the mass funerals of dead fighters, the prayer leader, with breaking voice, identifies the dead men with the honour of the Warfalla, Bani Walid’s tribe. Behind him, rough, tough middle-aged men wipe their eyes with their woollen togas. As the coffins are carried away, the youth begin to cry with one voice: “The blood of the martyrs will not be wiped away! With my blood, with my soul, I will redeem you, Warfalla!”
Another cry is that Bani Walid will not be another Tawargha – that is, the town that was devastated by Misurata’s fighters after men from Tawargha had participated in the siege against Misurata last year.
But when the footage falls silent and simply shows small groups of fighters holding a position on the outskirts of Bani Walid or engaged in street fire-fights, the story telling falls to the background music. Sometimes it’s from Gladiator, other times the music is from The Last Of The Mohicans.
In other words, it’s the music that tells a story of heroic resistance to the death against tyranny. It reinforces the claims being made, by Warfalla since the beginning of October, that Bani Walid has become the Gaza of Libya and that Misurata is behaving like Israel. The cries of “The blood of the martyrs…” are vows broadcast from the Palestinian territories, too.
Needless to say, that’s not the story told by Misurata TV. There, one sees discussions of the need to bring Libya under one law – the accusation being that Bani Walid has not yet accepted the rule of the new Libya. There are family photos of fighters from last year’s battles.
There are recorded snippets of the broadcasts of Hamza Touhami, the hated, ridiculed and vulgar pro-Gaddafi broadcaster who, after the fall of Tripoli last year, sought refuge in Bani Walid and is now believed to be abroad. The pro-Gaddafi websites and broadcasts from outside Libya portray Bani Walid as a seat of loyalist resistance, as Misurata does.
So, when the voices die down and the film footage simply shows Misurata fighters entering areas of Bani Walid and taking groups of Warfalli youth prisoners, the music is taken from The Dark Knight Rises. Gotham is being recovered from the rule of criminal Gaddafi loyalists who have found refuge there since the fall of the regime.
I have discussed both sets of images with Libyan friends, some staunchly against Bani Walid, others preparing to defend the city against the intensified assault that began early on Tuesday morning. I have no doubt about the honesty of each them, all the more striking, therefore, that it was like discussing two different planets.
For the Warfalla, the gas masks show the intent of genocide by a Misurata that sees Bani Walid as the greatest challenge to its hegemony over the new Libya. Warfalla negotiators have insisted that Muammar Gaddafi is the past, that they only want Warfalla detainees released from Misurata gaols and for whom they will exchange Misurati prisoners.
For Misuratis and others, the gas masks were planted by pro-Gaddafi brigades and mercenaries, still ensconced in Bani Walid, where posters of the old dictator, they say, may still be found in shops and offices. Bani Walid cannot remain a law unto its own.
Sifting between the rival claims is impossible here. But there is space for two quick observations.
First, the conflict shows signs of spilling beyond Bani Walid. Sections of the Maqarha tribe, the largest of the south, and a small number of fighters from elsewhere, have joined Bani Walid (though not all Warfalla, spread around Libya, have joined in the fight).
Second, you are reading this when the siege is already over. On Tuesday morning, the bombardment intensified considerably. Some had already expected the souk to fall by yesterday.
What remains is a humanitarian crisis that ought to command the West’s attention.
There are hundreds of wounded in an under-resourced hospital, with not enough electrical power to be able to keep the dead in refrigeration.
We rightly helped look after Misurata’s wounded last year. Should we ignore the wounded of this year’s fighting?