(Author: Libyan Gazette Editorial Staff)
Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a statement on Tuesday regarding the civilians who are trapped by violence in Benghazi.
On one side of the fighting is General Khalifa Haftar’s forces, known as the Libyan National Army (LNA), who have forcefully imposed their illegitimate authority over civilians in eastern Libya. On the other side are brigades known as the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council (BRSC), who oppose Haftar’s control of eastern Libya.
Fighting between the two sides is concentrated in the Ganfouda district in Benghazi where the BRSC originate from. Ganfouda and a few other areas in Benghazi have been put under siege by the LNA for opposing Haftar.
The LNA’s ruthless blockade of the area has put the safety of many families in Benghazi at risk since it began its siege on Ganfouda in July 2014.
“All sides to the conflict in Benghazi should allow all civilians to leave the Ganfouda neighbourhood, and allow for the safe passage of humanitarian aid into the neighbourhood,” said the HRW statement.
The condition of civilians in Ganfouda is dire. One resident describes how, “One older man, al-Hajj Salem, refused to eat for 10 days and died. No one was able to leave the house for several days after he died. We could hear the daughters cry after their father died, but nothing could be done. The family called the Red Crescent to take him away, but the charity never came so the family had to bury him on their own. We are stuck at home and cannot leave because of all the air strikes.”
Another resident describes the story of an elder woman who was able to escape Ganfouda. “The Army [LNA] told residents that we could leave” said the resident, “so an old woman, 80 years, left her home. She called us once she reached Misrata and told us that she was arrested briefly by the army and was beaten on her back. She told us to beware and not to leave.
Haftar’s forces have put conditions on who they will allow to be evacuated and who they want to keep under siege. The LNA “said it will not allow any evacuation of males between ages 15 and 65” to leave Ganfouda.
About 120 families are in Ganfouda, according to Tamim Al-Gharyani, who is a mediator for BRSC and head of Benghazi Crisis Committee in Tripoli, which is associated with the National Salvation Government in Tripoli. Al-Gharyan added that “The civilians include foreign and Libyan local residents of Ganfouda, as well as people displaced from other Benghazi neighbourhoods, and an unknown number of foreign workers.”
Haftar’s forces “should let any civilian who wants to leave the battle zone go, whatever their age or gender,” said Hanan Salah, the HRW’s senior researcher on Libya.
“The presence of fighters nearby doesn’t give the LNA license to trap civilians in a battle zone facing near-starvation. The LNA is trying to force mothers to leave behind their 15-year-old sons in order to survive,” said Salah.
The BRSC who also stipulated conditions for releasing civilians are allegedly affiliated with ISIS, according to the HRW.