LIBYA: Battle for Sirte takes toll on Libyan children

Summary: Anti-Gadhafi fighters Monday encircled Sirte on the Mediterranean coast from the east, south and west and NATO warplanes pounded the city for a third straight day.

[26 September 2011] - One-year-old Isham cries uncontrollably as his father waits to see a doctor in the compound of a small clinic in the deserted town of Harawa, kilometres (miles) away from Sirte, hometown of Moamer Gadhafi and one of his last remaining redoubts of support.

For two days Isham has been vomitting and running a high fever, said his father Safi Mohammed, a displaced labourer who left his home in eastern Sirte after fighting erupted there between Gadhafi diehards and fighters of Libya's new rulers.

"He has been like this for two days now. I am waiting to see the doctor and hoping that she can rid him of his pain," Mohammed told AFP.

Isham is among dozens of children brought by their parents to the clinic in the town of Harawa, some 40 kilometres (25 miles) east of Sirte.

The clinic is located opposite to the town's Noor mosque and is the only such facility for civilian patients between Sirte and the town of Ras Lanuf further east.

Most of the children have been vomitting and suffering from water-borne diseases since their parents took refuge in deserted homes far from Sirte after leaving their own homes in and around the city.

On Monday an AFP correspondent in east Sirte saw dozens of vehicles loaded with scared children, men and women leaving the city to what they said were some "safe places" out of Sirte.

Anti-Gadhafi fighters Monday encircled Sirte on the Mediterranean coast from the east, south and west and NATO warplanes pounded the city for a third straight day.

Civilians fleeing the city of some 70,000 spoke of rapidly deteriorating conditions for the remaining residents, particularly children.

"The situation in the city is very critical," said Muftah Mohammed, a fish trader who was leaving in a convoy of seven vehicles with around 60 relatives and neighbours from Sirte's eastern gate.

"Children are in a particularly bad condition. There is no milk for them. We have all been surviving on just macaroni for several days."

Doctors and nurses at the Harawa clinic too said children were severely suffering due to the battle in Sirte.

"Most patients coming to me are children. I saw nearly 120 patients since morning and 70 per cent of them were children," said Doctor Valentina Rybakova, a Ukrainian who has been working in Libya for eight years.

"This is a big humanitarian crisis. We are trying to get help from everybody but the main problem is that these people have no access to clean drinking water," she told AFP, while treating Mohammed, a nine-year-old suffering from diarrhea.

She said most patients were from outskirts of Sirte and nearby villages.

"There is severe pain in my stomach. I also have fever for the past two days," said Mohammed who was accompanied by his father.

Another child cried and coughed as her mother patted her back and waited for doctor Rybakova to finish diagonising Mohammed.

The doctor said the clinic was facing some shortage of medicines to treat such ailments, but the main problem was an acute shortage of nurses.

"We are facing shortage of medicines but we are getting them. However there are not enough nurses to treat the constant flow of patients," she said, adding that organisations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross were also supplying medicines.

An AFP correspondent saw a truck and two Red Cross vans heading towards the eastern gate of Sirte, carrying medicines and other essential items.

Outside the Harawa clinic fighters of the National Transitional Council were assembling in groups and heading towards Sirte's eastern gate. They regularly meet at the mosque where their commanders brief them on the day's plan.

But some fighters come in and out of the clinic, carrying their Kalashnikovs, sometimes accompanying patients known to them. Fighters wounded in the fighting are, however, treated at a separate make-shift hospital a few kilometres away or taken to Ras Lanuf.

"Here we treat only civilian cases of people suffering from diseases. Wounded fighters are taken to the other make-shift hospital," said Doctor Tareq Mogasabhi, as he treated some elderly patients at the Harawa clinic.

Outside the clinic a fighter, standing in a pick-up truck, fired a few rounds from his Kalashnikov.

"This too is a problem as children get scared with so many guns firing around," said doctor Rybakova.


pdf: http://www.montrealgazette.com/news/LIBYA+FORGOTTEN+CHILDREN/5459203/sto...

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