Gadafy alleges Sirte massacre


Two days of Nato air strikes and shelling of Sirte by interim government forces on have killed 151 people, a spokesman for Muammar Gadafy claimed today.


He also said the city's main hospital had run out of medical supplies and power.

His claims could not immediately be verified as Sirte, the former Libyan leader’s hometown, is largely cut off from communication and is besieged on three fronts by ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) forces.

Nato comment was not immediately available.

"Between yesterday and this morning, 151 civilians were killed inside their homes as the Grad rockets and other explosives fell upon their heads," Moussa Ibrahim said in a satellite phone call to Reuters in Tunis. "The city hospital stopped functioning altogether last night. Patients died simply because nothing can be done to help them."

Mr Ibrahim made similar claims last week when he said that Nato raids on Sirte had hit a residential building and a hotel, killing 354 people. A spokesman at the time said Nato was aware of the allegations and such claims were often unfounded. Nato says its air strikes in Libya since March have not killed large numbers of civilians.

Sirte is one of only two major towns still under the control of pro-Gadafy forces after the NTC took over most of another stronghold, Sabha, yesterday.

Mr Ibrahim also attacked the raising of Libya's new flag at the United Nations on Tuesday. "Look at Palestine - more than 60 years legitimate struggle for a state and still nobody wants to hear the case of the Palestinian people to have a seat at the UN,” Mr Ibrahim said. "Yet some armed gangs, supported by Nato, get their flag raised at the UN before they're in even in control of the whole country. The Libyan people didn't vote for that flag. It's all through violence and rockets and bombs."

In another boost, the National Transitional Council (NTC) had an unexpected windfall when it found $23 billion worth of assets left unspent by Col Gadafy in Libya's central bank, the Financial Times reported today, citing officials in London and Tripoli.

The council is under pressure to assert its control over the country and also to revive Libya's economy and finance government institutions, hit by the long struggle to overthrow Col Gadafy.

The NTC's military spokesmen said its forces had seized the outpost of Jufra about 700km southeast of Tripoli, and most of Sabha.

"The whole of the Jufra area - we have been told it has been liberated," spokesman Fathi Bashaagha told reporters in the city of Misrata yesterday. "There was a depot of chemical weapons and now it is under the control of our fighters."

Under Col Gadafy, Libya was supposed to have destroyed its stockpile of chemical weapons in early 2004 as part of a rapprochement with the West under which it also abandoned a nuclear programme.

However, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons says Libya kept 9.5 tonnes of mustard gas at a secret desert location.

Gadafy loyalists have been holding out in Jufra and Sabha along with the bigger strongholds of Bani Walid, southeast of Tripoli, and Sirte since the fall of the capital in August.

"We control most of Sabha apart from the al-Manshiya district. This is still resisting, but it will fall," said another NTC military spokesman, Ahmed Bani.

CNN, citing a correspondent in Sabha, reported that NTC fighters had occupied its centre on Wednesday after taking the airport and a fort the day before.

Nato countries extended for three more months the air cover that helped anti-Gadafy fighters to victory.

However, chaos prevailed among fighters besieging Col Gadafy's other two remaining major strongholds. Several attempts by NTC fighters to take Bani Walid and Sirte in the past week have ended in disarray and panicked retreat.

At Bani Walid, bored militiamen fired weapons at camels and sheep while awaiting orders yesterday, as much a danger to themselves as to Gadafy fighters holed up in the town.

One man shot his own head off and killed another fighter while handling a rocket-propelled grenade in full view of a Reuters team. In another incident, a fighter wounded himself and another fighter after losing control of his machinegun.

Seven NTC fighters were also killed in an ambush by pro-Gadafy soldiers inside Bani Walid, council officials said.

At Bani Walid, troops from other areas have been arguing with local fighters, and there has been talk of traitors infiltrating the ranks and sabotaging the assault.

NTC official Abdullah Kenshil told Reuters that pro-Gadafy forces in Bani Walid had killed at least 16 civilians there in the last two days after suspecting they supported the council.

"They were killed in cold blood. They were all civilians and they were killed execution-style," he said. His account could not be independently verified.