May 9, 2011 Press Release from Human Rights Watch:
Civilians Killed, Homes, Mosques, and a School Damaged
(Beirut) - Libyan government forces have launched what appear to be repeated indiscriminate attacks on mountain towns in western Libya, Human Rights Watch said today.
Accounts from refugees who fled the conflict say the attacks are killing and injuring civilians and damaging civilian objects, including homes, mosques, and a school. Human Rights Watch called on Libyan forces to cease their indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas.
Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 50 refugees from Libya's western Nafusa mountains in Tunisia from April 26 to May 1, 2011, as well as doctors and aid workers assisting those in need. The refugees gave consistent and credible accounts of indiscriminate shelling and possible rocket attacks in residential areas of the rebel-controlled towns of Nalut, Takut, and Zintan. Human Rights Watch could not confirm the refugees' accounts due to government restrictions on travel in western Libya but, taken together, they describe a pattern of attacks that would violate the laws of war.
"Accounts from refugees paint a consistent picture: Libyan government forces are firing indiscriminately into towns and villages of the Nafusa mountains," said Nadya Khalife, Human Rights Watch researcher, who interviewed Libyan refugees in Tunisian hospitals and refugee camps. "The scale of the attacks, which have damaged mosques, homes, and landed near hospitals, suggests the government has made little or no attempt to focus on military targets."
The refugees said that government attacks from the outskirts of Nalut, Takut, and Zintan had damaged mosques, water facilities, homes, and a school, as well as landed outside two hospitals. The refugees said they had not seen rebel fighter activity or other military targets in the areas that were attacked.
According to the United Nations, by May 4 more than 44,000 Libyan refugees had crossed into Tunisia through the Dehiba crossing since April 7. More than 149,000 people had fled to Tunisia in total.
One Libyan refugee in Tunisia, Abdel Wahed T. (not his real name), 32, told Human Rights Watch how a government attack on his home in Zintan killed four relatives.
Abdel Wahed said that at the time of evening prayer on April 24, what he called a "rocket" landed next to his house in the residential neighborhood of Fra'een, which he said had not been used by rebel fighters. "I was at home, and we were listening to the "Grads,'" he said, using the term most refugees used for government-fired munitions. "My relatives were sitting on the floor in the house, and four of them died [when the munition hit]." The victims were Mohamad Ahmad "abd al-Salam, 76, Fajir al-Ma'aloul, in her 50s, Abd al-Rahman Mohamad al-Mehdi, 90, and Marwan abu Bakar Rmadi, 88.
Abdel Wahed said that he rushed to help after the munition struck and, at that moment, a secondary explosion scorched his face and caused other injuries. He was taken to the Zintan hospital where he stayed for several days, he said, but was forced to leave at 6:30 a.m. on April 27 after government-fired munitions landed outside the hospital. "Two rockets landed right in front of the hospital... and one of the nurses injured her hand," he said. "My brother then took the car and brought me here to Tunisia."
Human Rights Watch interviewed Abdel Wahed at the Tataouine hospital in Tunisia, where he was being treated for shrapnel in his left foot and both hands, two wounds on his chest, and first-degree burns on his face. Abdel Wahed said that the blast also injured an elderly male relative and a two-year-old girl, both of whom came with him to Tunisia for treatment.