By BEN HUBBARD
BENGHAZI, Libya – From makeshift beds inside a cruise-ship-turned-hospital, wounded residents of a besieged Libyan city told Sunday of daily shelling, looting and sniping by Moammar Gadhafi’s forces and called for the end of the Libyan ruler’s 42-year reign.
The ship, carrying hundreds from Misrata to Turkey for care, made a brief stop in Benghazi, where rebel youth gathered on the dock to welcome them and seek news from an embattled city that has been largely cut off from the world for weeks.
Dozens of men, many nursing gunshot wounds and missing limbs, lay on thin mats in the ship’s hull, speaking of brutal government attacks and young rebels struggling to fend them off.
Mohammed Abu Libous, 37, said he and seven relatives were working in a bakery on the outskirts of Misrata, rebel forces’ last major stronghold in western Libya, when about 20 Gadhafi troops entered in three tanks and started harassing local residents.
They entered his shop and told him and his brother to surrender their weapons. When they said they had none, the troops took them out in the street. They shot his brother through the stomach and him once in each thigh, he said.
“While I was on the ground bleeding, they bound the others and took them away,” he said, adding that the troops stole all their money, cell phones and rings.
While the eastern half of Libya fell quickly under rebel control, Misrata, 125 miles (200 kilometers) southeast of the capital Tripoli, was one of two western cities that rose up early in the revolt against Gadhafi. His elite forces besieged Misrata for weeks, cutting off food and water supplies and power lines, but the rebels have stood their ground.
The regime has retaken the other city, Zawiya.
Ali Davutoglu, the Turkish consul general in Benghazi, said the ship Ankara had brought 230 passengers from Misrata and was picking up another 100 from Benghazi before sailing to the Turkish port of Cesme, where hospitals were preparing to welcome them.
The Turkish government funded the trip, and the Turkish Red Crescent and Islamic aid group IHH provided staff and supplies, he said. Twelve Turkish jets and a frigate provided protection as the ferry docked at Misrata on Saturday, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
A few hundred young men gathered on the dock, cheering, chanting and raising their arms and rifles as two tugboats guided the Ankara to port.
Passengers – some with limbs in casts and bandages – appeared on the top deck, waving to the crowd below, which chanted, “The martyrs’ blood is not spilled in vain!”
Inside, doctors and nurses tended to the wounded in what was once a cruise ship. In one room, a bar had been converted into a pharmacy, with bandages and medicines where bottles and glasses once were. A nurse in a sanitary mask manned the reception desk.
Nearby, a dozen men in their 20s lounged on couches that likely once held tourists. Most had at least one limb in a cast, and all said they had been wounded defending their city.
“It was my first time holding a gun,” said Ibrahim Khelif, 25, whose left leg had been shattered by a hand grenade. “Anyone who could get one and figure out how to work it would go out in the street and fight.”
On a bed in a sleeper cabin, a Turkish doctor was changing the bandages on the stump where Mohammed Bashir’s left leg once was.
Bashir, a 41-year-old prosecutor, said Gadhafi’s forces shelled the city from three sides with tank rounds and mortars. Then snipers in civilian clothing deployed on rooftops in the downtown area where he lives with his wife and three children.
“They shoot at anyone who goes out, even those with children,” he said.
So he moved his family to his in-laws’ house elsewhere, he said, where they were sitting on March 25 when a large blast outside that he guessed was a mortar shattered the building’s windows.
The neighbors gathered at the blast site and two other mortars fell nearby. He was dashing behind the building, he said, when one fell near him. He passed out. The next day, his left leg was gone.
He wanted the international community to intervene and oust Gadhafi.
“The world has said he is no longer a legitimate ruler,” he said. “Now it needs to come get rid of him.”
Of the popular uprisings across the Arab world inspired by those in Tunisia and Egypt, Libya’s has been the most violent. Gadhafi’s forces were poised to overwhelm rebel forces before a campaign of international airstrikes began March 19.
While Gadhafi quickly quashed demonstrations in the capital city Tripoli, residents of many other cities armed themselves to fight off his well armed militias.
Rebels now hold much of the country’s east, where they have created a provisional government in Benghazi and are working to improve training and coordination of their forces to pursue Gadhafi’s ouster by force of arms.
A hospital official still in Misrata said by telephone that two of his cousins were aboard the ship. They and many other men were shot in the legs with “bullets that destroy the bones” after Gadhafi’s forces interrogated them, he said.
“They have to remove their legs,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
As he spoke, he said heavy shelling renewed on Sunday evening, with anti-tank fire, mortars and tank shells crashing around the city center for over an hour. He said it was too dangerous to dispatch medics to see if there were any wounded.
Misrata officials have said in recent days that Gadhafi’s troops also were trying to shell and destroy the city’s port to take away the rebels’ last lifeline to the outside world.
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