- Associated Press - Monday, September 26, 2011

SIRTE, Libya (AP) — Hundreds of civilians fled Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s hometown Monday to escape growing shortages of food and medicine and escalating fears that their homes will be struck during fighting between revolutionary forces and regime loyalists.

Anti-Gadhafi fighters launched their offensive against Sirte nearly two weeks ago but have faced fierce resistance from loyalists holed up inside the city. After a bloody push into Sirte again over the weekend, revolutionary fighters say they have pulled back to plan their assault and allow civilians more time to flee.

NATO, which has played a key role in decimating Col. Gadhafi’s military during the Libyan civil war, has kept up its air campaign since the fall of Tripoli last month. The alliance said Monday its warplanes struck eight military targets near Sirte a day earlier, including an ammunition and vehicle storage facility and rocket launcher.

Sirte, 250 miles southeast of Tripoli on the Mediterranean coast, is one of the last remaining bastions of Gadhafi loyalists since revolutionary fighters stormed into the capital last month, ending Col. Gadhafi’s nearly 42-year rule and sending him into hiding. The fugitive leader’s supporters also remain in control of the town of Bani Walid, southeast of Tripoli, and pockets of territory in the country’s south.

But even as fighting continues, Libyans have been working to restore a sense of normalcy in the North African nation of some 6 million people.

In a boost to the economy, Italian energy giant Eni said Monday it has resumed oil production in Libya after months of interruption for the civil war, tapping 15 wells and producing some 31,900 barrels of oil per day. French energy company Total said it restarted some production last week.

Libya’s economic future could hinge on the performance of its lucrative oil and gas sectors, whose production ground to a halt during this year’s insurgency against Col. Gadhafi.

Libya sits atop Africa’s largest proven reserves of conventional crude, and it raked in $40 billion last year from oil and gas exports. Still, experts say, it could take about a year or more to get Libya back to its pre-war production of 1.6 million barrels a day.

British Trade Minister Stephen Green also visited Tripoli and said his country’s businesses are eager to take part in the rebuilding of Libya and also will assist with British expertise. But he said no strategic decisions would be made in Libya until the country has completed writing a new constitution and an elected government is in place.

Libya’s new leaders have struggled to form a new interim Cabinet that could guide the country to elections.

The country’s de facto prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril, meanwhile, asked the U.N. Security Council to lift some of the economic sanctions on his country but said NATO should stay until civilians no longer are being killed.

Civilians fleeing Sirte on Monday described grave shortages of food, fuel, drinking water and medicine.

Dr. Eman Mohammed, a 30-year-old physician at the city’s central Ibn Sina Hospital, said the facility was short on most medicines and had no oxygen in the operating rooms. She said that most days, patients who reach the hospital find no one to treat them because fuel shortages and fear keep staff from coming to work.

She said many recent injuries appear to be caused by revolutionary forces. “Most of the people killed or injured recently are from the shelling,” she said.

Forces on the city’s outskirts fire tank shells, Grad rockets and mortar rounds toward the city daily with little more than a general idea of what they are targeting. NATO, meanwhile, is operating in Libya under a mandate to protect civilians.

Dr. Mohammed, who is from the Warfala tribe, which traditionally has supported Col. Gadhafi, said most of the fighters in the city are armed volunteers fighting for personal reasons.

“There is a bloody aspect to it,” she said, standing at a rebel checkpoint outside the city. “Many people died in the battlefield as martyrs, so their relatives are angry. It doesn’t have to do with Gadhafi anymore. It’s more about revenge than about anything else.”

She said she didn’t expect the fighters to surrender easily.

“It is just simple resistance, just those who lost relatives or who are defending their homes,” she said.

Others said they also felt endangered by the fighting.

“We got scared for our children,” said Amir Ali, 40, who ran a metal workshop in the city for years. He fled with his five children when the explosions got too close to their home.

“It comes from both sides,” he said. “I have no idea what kind of weapons they are, but it’s all heavy stuff.”

He said the shortages keep many people who would like to flee from getting out.

“There are many people inside who don’t have cars to leave or can’t get gas,” he said. “Others don’t want to leave.”

Associated Press writers Nicole Winfield in Rome and Hadeel al-Shalchi in Tripoli contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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