Evacuees from Libya rebel town of Misrata describe 'massacre' by Qaddafi troops

In the besieged city of Misrata, the only large rebel stronghold left in western Libya, there are bodies lying in the streets and the hospital is overflowing with injured, according to those who have got out.

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SFAX, TUNISIA // Bodies lay in the streets of the besieged Libyan city of Misrata and its hospital is overflowing with injured, an evacuee said yesterday after arriving in Tunisia.

An aid ship operated by Medecins Sans Frontieres docked in the Tunisian port of Sfax carrying 71 injured people from Misrata, many with bullet wounds and broken limbs and one whose face was completely disfigured by burns.

"You have to visit Misrata to see the massacre by Qaddafi," said Omar Boubaker, a 40-year-old engineer who was shot in the leg.

"Corpses in the street … the hospital overflowing. Doctors taking care of people in the street. There's no space left in the hospital," he said.

Misrata is the only large rebel stronghold left in western Libya and has been under attack for weeks by forces loyal to Col Muammar Qaddafi. Accounts from Misrata cannot be verified because Libyan authorities are not allowing journalists to report freely from the city.

The port of Sfax echoed to the sound of sirens as a stream of ambulances ferried the wounded to hospital.

Abdullah Lacheeb, who suffered serious injuries to his pelvis and stomach and a bullet wound to his leg, cried as he said: "Look what Qaddafi and his sons have done, just because we protested peacefully."

"I could live or die but I am thinking of my family and friends who are stranded in the hell of Misrata," he said. "Imagine, they use tanks against civilians. Qaddafi is prepared to kill everyone there."

Libyan officials deny attacking civilians in Misrata, saying that they are fighting armed gangs linked to al Qa'eda.

Many of the wounded who arrived in Sfax vowed the fight against Qaddafi would go on.

Wael Ali, a 25-year-old, had fractures to both legs and an arm. He lifted his uninjured arm to give the victory sign. "We will win, or we will die," he said. "That is our message to Qaddafi. We're not afraid to die for freedom."

But Imed, another injured man, said Misrata needed outside help to withstand the attacks.

"We cannot do anything against this massacre any more. We ask the Americans and the Europeans to put people on the ground and help us end these crimes ... We need you on the ground to protect us," he said. "Qaddafi is mad."

Western aircraft have targeted government forces in the city with air strikes but have so far been unable to halt the attacks by pro-Qaddafi units, who residents say have stationed snipers on rooftops and are firing mortars and artillery at houses.

Residents in Sfax welcomed the evacuees from Misrata, and saw a parallel between the fight there and the revolution in Tunisia earlier this year, in which a popular uprising overthrew the authoritarian president.

Hani, a local man who was in a cafe, told Reuters he was going to a clinic to donate blood for the wounded.

"It's the least we can do to help our brothers to achieve the days of liberty we are living in Tunisia," he said.