Civilians flee besieged Libyan city of Sirte


People wounded in fighting in Libya's besieged city of Sirte are dying on the operating table because fuel for the hospital generator has run out, medical workers fleeing a worsening humanitarian crisis in the city said today.

The birth-place of deposed Libyan leader Muammar Gadafy, Sirte is one of two towns still holding out against the country's new rulers and civilians are caught in the middle of fierce fighting now in its third week.

The interim government, or National Transitional Council (NTC), declared a two-day truce to allow civilians to escape, but people emerging from the city said they knew nothing of the ceasefire, and that the shooting had not stopped.

"Doctors start operating, then the power goes. They have a few litres of fuel for the generators, then the lights go out when they operate," said a man who gave his name as Al-Sadiq, who said he ran the dialysis unit at Sirte's main hospital.

"I saw a child of 14 die on the operating table because the power went out during the operation," he told Reuters on the western outskirts of the city.

Aid workers from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) who brought medical supplies into Sirte on Saturday could not reach the hospital because of shooting.

That hospital has now become the focus of concerns about the humanitarian crisis in the city, with residents describing how doctors are trying to treat civilians injured in the fighting without adequate supplies.

"It's a catastrophe. Patients are dying every day for need of oxygen," said Mohammed Shnaq, a biochemist at the hospital who fled early today during a lull in the shooting.

He said private pharmacies in Sirte handed over their supplies to the hospital after its own stocks ran out a week ago, but these were now running out too.

Libyans ended Col Gadafy's 42-year rule in August when rebel fighters stormed the capital. Col Gadafy and several of his sons are still at large, and his supporters hold Sirte and a second town of Bani Walid, south of Tripoli.

The former leader's supporters are too weak to regain power, but their resistance is frustrating the new rulers' efforts to start building the new Libya.

Gadafy loyalists and some civilians have blamed Nato air strikes and shelling by anti-Gadafy forces for killing civilians in Sirte.

Both Nato and the NTC deny that and say it is the Gadafy loyalists who are endangering civilians by using them as human shields.

An NTC field commander said that once the two-day truce runs out later today, they would renew their attacks and move into the centre of Sirte.