Sky News & PressTV & Alex Crawford / Sky News – 2011-03-23 23:06:02
‘We Would Never Kill Civilians’
(March 22, 2011) — A Libyan government spokesman has told Sky News that Colonel Gaddafi’s forces would never kill civilians, insisting that the leader was “loved by millions.”
Moussa Ibrahim blamed coalition forces for killing 48 civilians on the first night of military action. He told Sky’s Lisa Holland — reporting from Tripoli under the supervision of Libyan authorities — that “many” more had been killed on the second and third nights of strikes. He was unable to provide precise figures.
Britain and the international community should send a “fact-finding mission” from abroad to identify who is killing civilians, instead of sending “rockets and bombs”.
Dr Ibrahim said: “We are saying we can not kill our children, our sons of Libya, because the Libyan army is composed of Libyan children, of Libyan tribes.
“How could Libyan tribes kill Libyan tribes? We can’t do that even if we want to.” He went on: “Why is it so easy for the British government and your spokespersons to send rockets on us, and it’s very difficult to send politicians and observers and judge us? You can’t accuse us of crimes, condemn us, sentence us and punish us without investigating us.”
Dr. Ibrahim said coalition strikes had hit “civilian and quasi-military” targets, such as ports and harbors used by fishermen and civilian workers as well as the army. But he denied that pro-Gaddafi forces had killed unarmed civilians in Zawiyah — as witnessed by a Sky News reporting team [See â€œSpecial Reportâ€ video below] — and blamed the deaths on armed militia.
US-led Attack Kills 4 Afghan Civilians
(March 23, 2011) — At least four Afghan civilians, including a child, have been killed in US-led military operations in southeastern Afghanistan, police say. The US-led helicopters bombarded the Khost district in Khost province, leaving four dead and two others wounded, a senior police official told a Press TV correspondent on Wednesday. The identities of those killed are not yet known, the official said.
The US-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has confirmed the attack but did not release further details. Local sources say all those killed were civilians and that there was a child among them. The incident occurred nearly one month after the death of nine children in northeast of the country during the US-led air strikes.
Thousands of Afghan people have so far been killed as a result of military operations by the foreign troops since the 2001 US-led invasion.
Rebel-Held Town Under Siege
Alex Crawford / Sky News
ZAWIYAH, Libya (March 22, 2011) – — The people of Zawiyah are fighting for their lives. We have seen with our own eyes Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s forces firing on peaceful protesters.
We have witnessed the regime’s tanks shelling residential buildings. We have sheltered in a mosque as the colonel’s soldiers fired on the minarets.
Later, we were in the town’s Martyrs’ Square watching the rebels’ celebrations as the authorities in Tripoli told the foreign media they had “liberated” the place.
The Sky News crew of cameraman Martin Smith, foreign editor Tim Miller and I found ourselves trapped in Zawiyah as the Libyan army still loyal to Col Gaddafi moved in to crush them.
The day before, we had joined thousands and thousands of Zawiyah’s towns folk as they marched through the streets demanding Col Gaddafi stepped down.
They shouted slogans for change and waved the original Libyan flag as they moved en masse to the army tank lines on the edge of the town.
In the crowds were children, mostly young boys. They looked around eight, maybe 10 years old. “Go Gaddafi, go,” the crowd shouted.
We were constantly stopped by the demonstrators. “Tell the UN we need their help,” one man said. Then, as the crowd came close to the first tank, near an intersection, the soldiers opened fire.
The crowd appeared to flinch but carried on walking — the firing carried on too. It caused a stampede as people fled. The firing continued.
We saw ambulances being driven at high speed to pick up the first casualties and they too were fired on. “Gaddafi is killing Libya. Send your report. We need to show people this.”
It was mayhem at the Zawiyah teaching hospital, as dozens of people were stretchered in by friends, colleagues and strangers. The injuries were appalling.
One doctor, who we shall call Dr M for his own safety, told us: “This is a shoot to kill policy. Most of the injuries are to the head, chest and neck. These are not shots to frighten people, these are shots to kill.”
We were in Zawiyah from Friday midday to Sunday afternoon and, in that time, the people were under almost constant attack with repeated military forays into the town centre.
We were shielded by those soldiers who had defected from the army. They had brought with them ammunition, a number of anti-aircraft guns, a few tanks and some guns.
We were told they call themselves the Freedom Fighters Brigade and had set up a 10-man military council headed by a number of high-ranking officers. That night, we camp with them in their headquarters as the soldiers spoke of fighting to the death.
“There is no hope for Libya while Gaddafi is in control,” said one. Another says: “Enough is enough. We are not going to kill our own.”
Before dawn on Saturday, we hear the tanks rumbling towards the square. The mosque’s loudspeaker is calling the townspeople to jihad (holy war).
We can see from our seventh floor vantage point the red tracer rounds being fired by heavy calibre guns. There are large plumes of smoke just beyond the square, as they edge closer and closer.
The rebels begin frantically loading their machinery. I see one young man wearing T-shirt, jeans and glasses being given a hasty lesson in how to use a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.
“Put it on your shoulder like this,” his tutor is saying. “Kneel, fire. Allah Akhbar (God is great),” he says and walks out of the building to fight.
The rebels may have their own rag-tag army in Zawiyah but it is mostly made up of civilians who have just picked up a weapon. Now, they are battling to save their town and stay alive. Time and time again they push back Col Gaddafi’s army. The morning battle rages for three hours.
We shelter in a small storeroom in the mosque, as guns pound outside. A teenage boy next to me starts sobbing. He is not the only one who thinks he is going to die.
The noise is incredible. Constant repeated firing, huge boom-bangs from the tank barrels, the crackling of high-calibre guns and anti-aircraft weapons. Bullets are pinging around the mosque’s open courtyard.
The wounded and dying are brought in under fire, rushing for the second small storeroom that is now the emergency ward.
The doctors have little to work with — just some swabs, some saline drips, some bandages and tremendous professional courage and skill.
A man is carried in with his brain matter exposed. He is still conscious. “Allah Akhbar, Allah Akbar,” he says repeatedly. He is around 55 to 60 years old, not a fighter. Probably someone’s grandfather but, yet, a rebel — and in Col Gaddafi’s eyes, therefore, a legitimate target.
I crouched in the corner of the ‘clinic’ and see a man more than 6ft tall bring in another of the wounded over his shoulder. He is sweating and heaving through exertion and the man he carried had so many wounds it is difficult to see where he had not been hit.
The smell is overpowering. It is the smell of death. The large man slumps down his load and runs out retching. I see him in the mosque’s courtyard vomiting, as he is comforted by a friend.
Several Gaddafi soldiers are brought in and their IDs show they are from the Khamis brigade, the crack 32nd battalion led by one of Col Gaddafi’s sons.
Several people are reading the Koran and praying — it seems impossible these people can hold out against the might of Col Gaddafi’s army.
The pounding of the tanks is so close we feel like they are just the other side of the wall behind which we are sheltering. I look at Martin’s face and see just what I was feeling — it is sheer, raw terror. Tim has his head in his hands. I’m pretty sure he felt the same way.
A soldier from the attacking force is dragged into the small room and laid in front of us.
His inside ankles have both been blown off. The bone is shattered. It is as though something has exploded between his legs. He is crying out in pain and in fear. The men who dragged him in are screaming at him. A doctor pushes them out and bolts the door.
“We will treat him,” he says. “We are humanitarians. He will live.”
The doctor quickly organises a drip and cleans his wounds. He is screaming in agony. The doctors keep on reassuring him as he is treated.
There are about half a dozen of us in the room and one of the other men held the saline drip up and the soldier gripped his leg. As word got out that he is in the room, the fighters outside try to come in. They are banging on the tin door. The doctor told me to show my face.
“Look, we have foreign journalist here. It is important they tell our story,” he says.
The injured soldier begs for painkillers as blood comes out of his nose from the beating he has received. He tells us he came in a convoy of 25 to 30 tanks and they came in from the east gate and Tripoli.
“We were told you were all Bin Laden terrorists,” he says to the doctors. “But now I know you are decent people.”
The thunder of the fighting quietens a little and suddenly young men are at the door beckoning us to come out. We step out gingerly and immediately outside the mosque entrance, crashed on the green verge of the central square, is a tank still smoking.
There are suddenly crowds of people emerging from their shooting positions and hideouts. Two drop to their knees on the ground in front of us. They cannot believe they have survived it and actually beaten back, at least for now, the colonel’s tanks and troops.
Men are crying and whooping with joy and relief. They begin firing guns into the air and climbing on to the battered military vehicles that had moments before been firing on them. Around the foot of another tank are the bodies of some of Col Gaddafi’s soldiers.
“See they are not Libyan,” they are shouting. “Look, they have African, not Arab, faces. They are from Chad or Niger.”
They produced a tin of Nutella and tell Martin it was evidence the soldiers are on drugs. He tries to contradict, explaining Nutella is chocolate spread, but the crowds are having none of it. They are alive, no one expected that.
“Your safety is important to us,” several of the rebels tell us. “You must get these pictures out, Gaddafi will deny this ever happened.” He does.
The crowd scatters suddenly as firing breaks out again. I happen to be on the phone broadcasting and talking to Sky’s Andrew Wilson in Benghazi. “We are coming under attack again,” I said, as the phone goes dead.
Everyone has run under cover by now and I am kneeling under a tree near a wall. I am frantically ringing back, knowing my colleagues will be out of their heads with worry.
I got through to the news desk and they patch me through to Andrew and on-air again. “You gave us a scare there Alex,” he says, and I can sense the tension in his voice, but it is also hugely comforting.
By this time the square has filled again. They are tense and edgy about lingering snipers picking them off, but determined to celebrate their victory.
The rebels arrange an ambulance to take us to the hospital and, as we pull out of the square, more and more people emerge from their homes and onto the streets. There are battered and abandoned military vehicles along the route.
Martin is filming out of the rear window as we arrive at the hospital, but there are half a dozen of Gaddafi’s soldiers in front of us on the road.
I just glimpse one holding his weapon and trying to prevent us leaving. There is the crackle of gunfire and the report of a bullet whistling far too close. Even ambulances are not considered off limits by these soldiers.
When we arrive at the hospital, there is a scene that the medical staff are becoming all too familiar with in Zawiyah. The dead and dying are being, rushed, dragged and helped in. We see more tanks going into the square. There is another attack going on. The mobile phone network has been cut. There is a growing sense of desperation among the doctors and nurses and a feeling that the town is under siege.
Our colleagues in Tripoli, we later discover, are told again — at this stage — that Zawiyah is under the control of the government.
We drive the short distance to the square to see for ourselves, and find people thronging by the mosque, holding up empty cartridges and waving Libyan flags. There are no government forces at all at this stage.
The bodies of the dead soldiers are no longer there and the town has taken another hammering. There are holes in the buildings surrounding the square, burnt cars in the streets. The lampposts have been knocked down by the advancing military hardware.
Few buildings have been left untouched. Residential flats were pocked with holes. A family of five lived in one, they are thought to have left a few days ago.
One of the doctors still at the mosque tells us to leave. “The tanks are coming. Go, go, go,” he said. We take his advice.
Back at the hospital, we watch as five tanks and a column of other military vehicles, loaded with Col Gaddafi’s troops, head towards the square again. There is a crowd of medical staff all in their blue, green and white waiting outside. They start preparing the wards for the inevitable injuries.
As the troops go in, they fire down the street. They are firing far too close for comfort. One shell lands so close that the windows of the hospital rattle. Nurses start piling up the stretchers against the rear exterior walls and windows as they think they are coming under attack.
The ambulance brings in a man with an unexploded anti-tank grenade that had lodged in his thigh. He is still conscious and shouting: “Allah Akhbar, Allah Akhbar.”
“Look at what that bastard is doing to our people,” one of the doctors says.
A 10-year-old boy is brought in with bullet wounds in both legs. He tells the medics he was sitting on his doorstep when the troops started firing.
I see a group of about 20 doctors in the corner of the hospital all kneeling and praying, the sound of shelling reverberates all around. “Inshallah, you will be okay,” one nurse says to me. Amongst all this mayhem, she has taken the time to comfort a worried stranger.
We go outside to phone the London news desk by satellite phone to tell them about the fresh attack, when a fighter jet sweeps low across the square and the hospital.
The tension inside the hospital goes up another notch. “They are coming, they are coming,” one man says. An ambulance pulls up outside the accident and emergency entrance and a wounded civilian is being lifted out. There is a gaggle of waiting doctors and nurses all wearing very identifiable medical gowns and there is a crackle of nearby gunfire. Most scatter and the remainder run in with the injured man.
There is cheering from the crowd at the hospital entrance, as someone spots the military vehicles racing away from the square and back to Tripoli. The rebels in the square have beaten them back again.
That night in Tripoli, the rest of the international media are being told yet again that the town has been freed, that Col Gaddafi’s forces are just “tidying up” and there will be a media “show-round” very soon. The capacity of the Gaddafi regime to manipulate the truth, it seems, knows no bounds.
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