The siege of Bani Walid, the last major stronghold of supporters of deceased dictator Moammar Gadhafi, claimed the lives of at last two people on Monday, more than a year after Gadhafi was killed and nearly one year after Libya’s provisional government declared that the war to topple him had ended.
Bani Walid partisans accused the Libyan government and militia from the city of Misrata of indiscriminate shelling that has killed dozens and wounded hundreds in five days of fighting. A 48-hour ceasefire declared Friday to allow civilians to evacuate Bani Walid was broken Saturday, and an estimated 26 people were killed and over 200 wounded.
Misrata militias besieged the town starting three weeks ago, demanding the surrender of people it said had been involved in the death of a militia member who’d been kidnapped and tortured over the summer. The militia member died of his injuries in September in Paris.
.How many people were killed or wounded Monday was difficult to verify. Communications to the city were blocked, and news agencies reported they’d been unable to reach the city’s main hospital. McClatchy efforts to reach the city’s media relations department also failed.
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People with ties to Bani Walid reached in Tripoli, however, said attacks on the city were continuing.
“On Sunday four members of my family were killed in their homes when they were shelled,” Muhammad, a resident of Tripoli’s Abu Salim neighborhood, told McClatchy by phone. “They were civilians and the rocket attacks were random.”
Muhammad, who asked that his surname be withheld for security reasons, said that two of his friends died Monday when the car they were in was hit by a rocket as they tried to flee Bani Walid.
“Many people are very angry with what is happening and are threatening to take up arms,” Muhammad said.
That is one of the concerns as the violence sweeps Bani Walid. McClatchy interviewed Muhammad and a group of his friends in Abu Salim in June. All continued to back the Gadhafi regime even then and warned that large caches of weapons had been secreted in the neighborhood. They were waiting for the right time to use them against the authorities, they said.
The anger of those with family and friends in Bani Walid has already spilled over to other parts of Libya. On Sunday security guards fired into the air with Kalishnikovs and anti-aircraft guns to break up a demonstration when about 800 people stormed the National Congress to protest the ongoing Bani Walid assault.
It was the first time that security guards had deployed these weapons to break up a demonstration and some of them complained that they didn’t have the necessary riot dispersal equipment to force the protestors out of the building after many of them had managed to storm past the guards.
Journalists trying to cover the scene complained that the guards tried to snatch cameras from them.
On Saturday, a group of Gadhafi supporters attacked a military camp between Janzour and Zawia outside of Tripoli, reportedly holding it for several hours. It was later retaken by government forces including members of the Supreme Security Committee (SSC), militia forces and the air force. Some of the attackers managed to escape but several were killed during the fighting.
Gunmen in Bani Walid also managed to disrupt Tripoli’s water supplies for several days when they attacked water infrastructure that runs past Bani Walid.
The rising number of civilian casualties has alarmed U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon who on Sunday called for Libyan authorities and those in Bani Walid to find a way to resolve the stand-off peacefully.