Tripoli hospital closes as fighting rages on

Tripoli’s Abu Salim Hospital has been shut down because staff and patients can no longer access it, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said on Saturday.

Patients have been evacuated to surrounding clinics and hospitals as the area’s medical personnel struggle to navigate through a throng of violent fighting in Libya’s capital, Dr Prinitha Pillay told the Mail & Guardian on Saturday.

More than 200 decomposing bodies were found at the hospital this week.

“Other clinics are under immense pressure and strain. There’s basically an influx of patients needing emergency care and not enough doctors to do what needs to be done,” said Pillay

“We’d seen the healthcare system under strain through a lack of supplies and fuel which makes it hard to run ambulances. Over the last few days, with intensified fighting, it made it hard to move in the city ...
this meant medical staff couldn’t reach the hospital,” Pillay told the M&G.

An MSF emergency team has been sent to the war-torn area with supplies as the number of wounded continues to rise.

On Thursday the team came across several patients and medical staff who had been holed up in the facility for up to five days, too scared to leave the hospital after rebels took over the area.

Doctors and nurses fled after clashes erupted nearby between rebel forces and those loyal to former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Pillay said the inability of wounded to find treatment was “alarming”, adding it was critical they have unhindered access to medical care.

The BBC’s John Simpson was quoted as saying the situation was “one of the most terrible incidents of the revolution”.

He added that he had found corpses of men, women and children on beds and in the corridors of Abu Salim’s hospital.

The BBC reported that some residents accused the regime of murdering those at the hospital, but it was not clear how they had died.

Residents said some had been alive when they were brought to the hospital, albeit with very bad injuries, while others had already died.

Agence France-Presse reported that the hospital was occupied by pro-Gaddafi snipers on Saturday and that it was only on Thursday, after days of intense fighting, that it was secured by the rebels.

Osama Bilil, one of the doctors, told the BBC: “These bodies have been here in the hospital for five days. Nobody has taken care of them—to bring them to the mortuary, to identify them, to bury them”.

“We need help. It is very urgent. There is no government here. We need professional help, from the International Red Cross because there has been a massacre in Abu Salim,” the BBC reported.

Asset freeze hurting humanitarian situation
While South Africa remains firm in its refusal to free up Gaddafi’s frozen assets for Libya’s National Transitional Council, the asset freeze has left the country short of basic medical supplies.

Pillay, told theM&G that funds set aside for medical expenditure were among the assets frozen when the UN blocked Gaddafi’s assets in February.

The medical emergency has urged Pillay to call on South African doctors and nurses to volunteer in Libya. She said “the daily bombing of the capital had left children traumatised” and hospitals short of essential medicines and staff to treat patients.

The NTC’s representative to South Africa, former Libyan ambassador Abdulla Alzebedi, also told the M&G that he was concerned that medical supplies, fuel, water and food were in short supply in Libya, following almost seven months of conflict in the country.

In response to the shortages of fuel, essential medicines and food in Libya, the ANC Youth League has slammed Nato for supporting rebel fighting that has reduced “a functioning country” to a disaster zone. “You can’t hold people hostage. You claimed to resolve a crisis but took people from living in prosperity into living through a humanitarian crisis,” youth league spokesperson Magdelene Moonsamy told the M&G.

Gaddafi’s luxury villa in central Tripoli is the latest vestige of his fallen rule to be pillaged by angry mobs.

The opulent compound in the upscale Gargur district was bombed by Nato in April in what Gaddafi allies said at the time was an attempt to kill their leader.

Its iron gates now broken and wide open, the once top-security villa was abandoned and looted when Reuters visited it on Saturday.

Framed Gaddafi portraits, torn apart and stamped on, littered the lawn outside the main building.

An armoured vehicle peppered with bullet holes was parked at the gate. Inside, broken furniture filled lavish rooms with arched hallways. Chairs and men’s clothes floated in a vast indoor swimming pool.

Music from an electronic toy filled the corridors with a Beethoven tune.

An assortment of what looked like private family photos depicting Gaddafi surrounded by family and allies were strewn on the grass outside the house. Some were ripped into pieces.

One photo showed a younger Gaddafi smiling alongside Moussa Koussa, his former close lieutenant who defected to the West shortly after the rebellion began.

Heaps of rubble, spent cartridges, machine gun belts, broken toys and glass were scattered around. An empty bottle of Gold Label whiskey was left on the steps of the house.

Local residents said crowds broke into the compound after Tripoli fell to rebels this week.

“Some people came here and did this,” said a Gargur resident, Moussa Zintani, 37, a real estate businessman. “It was a huge blast. Shrapnel flew everywhere,” he said of the Nato strike.

Another building, ruined in the strike, stood nearby—a mangled mess of concrete and wire rods.

The government took journalists to this location in late April saying Gaddafi was inside the building at the time but survived. His youngest son and three grandchildren were killed, officials said.—Reuters, AFP, M&G

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