A United Nations team, including representatives from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the World Health Organization (WHO), completed a one-week mission to Tripoli on July 24. On the fourth mission to Tripoli since the beginning of the crisis, the team aimed to assess the needs of displaced persons and other vulnerable groups, and looked at the humanitarian impact of the conflict on civilians. “Although the mission observed aspects of normalcy in Tripoli, members identified pockets of vulnerability where people need urgent humanitarian assistance,” said Humanitarian Coordinator Laurence Hart.
Medical priorities include treating people with injuries due to the ongoing conflict, the report found. The health sector is already under strain because of the conflict and the departure of thousands of foreign health workers since the beginning of the crisis. Medical supplies, including vaccines, are rapidly running low. Although basic foodstuffs can be found in the markets, prices are increasing. The fuel shortage was found to be a significant problem; the UN team observed long queues at gas stations, some of which had closed down. A fuel consumption quota system is now in place, and Libyan authorities warn that fuel stocks could run out in two weeks. Public transport costs have triple.
Reduced availability of cash is also a serious concern, as many Libyans withdrew their savings at the beginning of the crisis. Banks are restricting cash withdrawals for individual account holders. The mission team reported that water is still available, but people are experiencing significant electricity cuts. (OCHA, UN News Centre, July 25
As the report was released, Tripoli accused NATO of killing at least seven people and destroying food stocks in Zliten, 150 kilometers east of the capital. On a guided tour of of the town, foreign journalists were told by a government official that a NATO strike on the morning of July 25 targeted a small clinic for communicable diseases. Journalists were shown a building with a crescent sign on the entrance completely destroyed. There were gloves strewn on the ground, oxygen bottles, pharmaceuticals and stretchers. Five ambulances were on standby as rescue teams scoured the rubble for other possible victims.
The reporters were also taken to another part of Zliten, where they were shown three damaged food storage buildings and another one still on fire, which government officials also blamed on NATO attacks. Strewn around the site were hundreds of bags of rice, tomatoes and vegetable oil which smouldered with smoke, as firefighters tried to extinguish the flames. In the same compound, a destroyed building still bore the sign “Agricultural Security.” (Tripoli Post, July 25)
NATO said the following day that the bombing of regime forces in Libya will continue for as long as needed , and that Moammar Qaddafi cannot “wait us out.” NATO deputy spokesperson Carmen Romero said in Brussels: “As long as his forces continue to attack or threaten civilians, and as long as they continue to try and cut off humanitarian aid, our operations will continue in Libya.”
Romero was joined by Col. Roland Lavoie, Operation Unified Protector military spokesperson, who briefed by videoconference from Naples. He pledged that the alliance would continue to have the resources needed to maintain the current average of between 100 and 140 sorties a day. Eight NATO members have been participating in air strikes in Libya: the US, UK, France, Belgium, Canada, Norway, Denmark and Italy. Romero said they have carried out a total of more than 6,200 strike sorties.
But this coalition has been gradually fraying. The United States has ostensibly limited its participation to providing support to the European allies. Italy has withdrawn its only aircraft carrier, the Garibaldi, and part of its air force contingent. And Norway has announced it will pull all of its F-16 warplanes out of the operation by Aug. 1. Nonetheless, Romero said the NATO “nations are absolutely determined to continue that mission.”
Lavoie also charged that pro-Qaddafi forces are increasingly occupying facilities that once held a civilian purpose, including stables, farm buildings, commercial warehouses, factories, and food processing plants. “By occupying and misusing these facilities, the regime has transformed them into military installations, from which it commands and conducts attacks…rendering them valid and necessary military objectives for NATO.” (Tripoli Post, July 26)