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Tripoli buries dead as battle toll emerges; Gadhafi still missing

A week after the fall of Moammar Gadhafi, residents of Tripoli ventured out to begin the grim work of burying the dead in mass graves on Saturday, as evidence emerged of widespread summary killings during the battle for the Libyan capital.
/ Source: news services

A week after the fall of Moammar Gadhafi, residents of Tripoli ventured out to begin the grim work of burying the dead in mass graves on Saturday, as evidence emerged of widespread summary killings during the battle for the Libyan capital.

The stench of decomposing bodies and burning garbage hung over the city as it faced a potential humanitarian catastrophe due to collapsing water and power supplies, shortages of medicine and no effective government.

The rebels now in control of most of Tripoli vowed to take Gadhafi's home town of Sirte by force if negotiations with loyalists in one of their last strongholds there failed.

Rebels deployed in Bin Jawad, a town about 100 miles east of Sirte, said they are waiting for NATO to bomb Scud missile launchers and possible weapons warehouses there.

Earlier this month, two Scuds were fired from near Sirte, a first in Libya's 6-month-old civil war.

"What we fear most is chemical weapons and the long-range missiles," said Fadl-Allah Haroun, a rebel commander. Once NATO has cleared the path, rebels will advance toward Sirte, he said. 

Gadhafi's whereabouts is unknown, but there has been speculation he may have sought refuge in his tribal area.

The rebels' information minister, Mahmoud Shammam, said the hunt for the defeated dictator won't hold up efforts to build a new administration and try to get the situation in Libya under control. "We are following him. We are going to find him, but we are not going to wait for everything to find Gadhafi and his sons," he said.

Bodies all over Tripoli As the fighting ebbed away in the capital, more and more bodies were found. Some were Gadhafi soldiers who perished, while others appeared to have been executed. Still more were found in the grounds of a hospital abandoned by its doctors.

A correspondent for Britain's Sky News said he had counted about 53 bodies left in a burned-out warehouse, where they were apparently executed earlier this week.

"It is a scene of mass murder," Stuart Ramsay said at the scene, quoting witnesses as saying 150 people were killed there on August 23 and 24 as rebel fighters fought pro-Gadhafi forces.

A resident told Sky the victims were mostly civilians and had been killed by Gadhafi's forces.

Meanwhile, rebel fighters were also trying to open up the coastal road from Tunisia to Tripoli, a major supply route. Rebels have taken control of the Tunisian-Libyan border crossing on the Mediterranean, but have been unable to ferry goods from Tunisia because regime loyalists were shelling the coastal road near the city of Zwara, about 70 miles from Tripoli, on Saturday.

A large ferry chartered by the International Organization for Migration docked in Tripoli's harbor on Saturday, unloading food, water and medical supplies. On Sunday, the vessel is to take aboard 1,200 stranded foreigners, an IOM official said.

A difficult life in Tripoli
While fighting has died down in the city, life remains very difficult.

Much of the capital is without electricity and water. Streets are strewn with torched cars and stinking garbage, because trash hasn't been collected in many neighborhoods for months. Corpses crowd abandoned hospitals. Stores are closed. Bombed planes sit on the Tripoli's airport's tarmac.

Fuel prices have skyrocketed. In Tripoli, the cost of 20 liters (about 5 gallons) has jumped to about 120 dinars ($100) — 28 times the price before fighting broke.

Shammam, the information minister, said 30,000 metric tons of fuel were being distributed Saturday, and that shipments of diesel fuel, for running power stations and water pumps, are on the way. 

He said he hoped the area's largest refinery, near the city of Zawiya, some 30 miles west of Tripoli, could be restarted soon. Mohammed Aziz, an operations manager there, said the refinery would start operating Monday.

In Tripoli's Abu Salim neighborhood, residents said gas is increasingly scarce. "We buy it mainly on the black market, mainly from Tunisians," said Osama Shallouf, a resident. "When you hear that somebody in the neighborhood is selling it, you go to his house and buy it."

The shortages come as Muslims around the world, including in Libya, prepared for a three-day holiday, Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan early next week. Traditionally, children get new clothes, shoes, haircuts and toys for the holiday.

In a string of towns stretching to the west of Tripoli, clothing stores were bustling with mothers, children in tow, shopping for Eid clothing. In Zawiya, Sabratha and Surman, the main highway was partially blocked by masses of cars parked in front of the roadside shops.

Rebel fighters rode into Tripoli nearly a week ago, capping a blitz offensive following months of battlefield deadlock. After days of fierce fighting that left at least 230 dead, according to hospital doctors, rebels seemed to be in control of nearly the entire capital.

On Saturday, they claimed victory over the suburb of Qasr bin Ghashir, near Tripoli's airport, following an overnight battle. Residents celebrated by firing guns and anti-aircraft weapons into the air and beating portraits of the toppled leader with their shoes. Regime troops had been shelling the airport from the area.

Gadhafi loyalists out of Tripoli
"You can say that bin Ghashir has been liberated from Gadhafi soldiers," said Omar al-Ghuzayl, a 45-year-old field commander in charge of rebel forces at Tripoli's airport. "We've been able to push them completely outside Tripoli."

On the diplomatic front, the rebel council is pressing foreign powers to release Libyan funds frozen abroad to help it restore security, provide services and revive the economy after six months of conflict.

The United States and South Africa struck a deal on Thursday to allow the release of $1.5 billion in frozen Libya funds for humanitarian aid and other civilian needs.