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Libya: NATO Strikes Sirte, Gaddafi Hometown

Ap Gaddafi Libya

HADEEL AL-SHALCHI and BEN HUBBARD   09/26/11 06:02 PM ET   AP

TRIPOLI, Libya — Libya's transitional justice minister said Monday that he has approved a measure to abolish the country's state security prosecution and courts, which sentenced opponents of the old regime to prison.

At a press conference in Tripoli, Mohammed al-Alagi, part of Libya's new leadership after the ouster of Moammar Gadhafi, said he has signed a document to disband the bodies. The step still needs approval by the National Transitional Council that now runs the country.

"I am personally very happy to sign an approval to end the state security prosecution and court, and the state security appeals court," al-Alagi said.

He said the document includes a request to abolish a third court for special cases where many opposition members were sentenced to life terms in prisons like Abu Salim in Tripoli, where inmates were massacred by Gadhafi's regime.

Libyans are pressing forward with efforts to do away with some of the most hated remnants of the former regime even though fighting continues and the ousted leader's whereabouts remains unknown.

Hundreds of civilians fled Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte Monday to escape growing shortages of food and medicine and escalating fears that their homes will be struck during fighting between revolutionary forces and regime loyalists.

Anti-Gadhafi fighters launched their offensive against Sirte nearly two weeks ago, but have faced fierce resistance from loyalists holed up inside the city. After a bloody push into Sirte again over the weekend, revolutionary fighters say they have pulled back to plan their assault and allow civilians more time to flee.

NATO, which has played a key role in decimating Gadhafi's military during the Libyan civil war, has kept up its air campaign since the fall of Tripoli last month. The alliance said Monday its warplanes struck eight military targets near Sirte a day earlier, including an ammunition and vehicle storage facility and rocket launcher.

Sirte, 250 miles (400 kilometers) southeast of Tripoli on the Mediterranean coast, is one of the last remaining bastions of Gadhafi loyalists since revolutionary fighters stormed into the capital last month. The fugitive leader's supporters also remain in control of the town of Bani Walid, southeast of Tripoli, and pockets of territory in the country's south.

Civilians fleeing Sirte Monday described grave shortages of food, fuel, drinking water and medicine.

Eman Mohammed, a 30-year-old doctor at the city's central Ibn Sina Hospital, said the facility was short on most medicines and had no oxygen in the operating rooms. She said most days, patients who reach the hospital find no one to treat them because fuel shortages and fear keep staff from coming to work.

She said many recent injuries appear to be caused by revolutionary forces. "Most of the people killed or injured recently are from the shelling," she said.

Forces on the city's outskirts fire tank shells, Grad rockets and mortar rounds toward the city daily with little more than a general idea of what they are targeting. NATO, meanwhile, is operating in Libya under a mandate to protect civilians.

Mohammed, who is from the Warfala tribe that has traditionally supported Gadhafi, said most of the fighters in the city are armed volunteers fighting for personal reasons.

"There is a bloody aspect to it," she said, standing at a rebel checkpoint outside the city. "Many people died in the battlefield as martyrs, so their relatives are angry. It doesn't have to do with Gadhafi anymore. It's more about revenge than about anything else."

She said she didn't expect the fighters to surrender easily.

"It is just simple resistance, just those who lost relatives or who are defending their homes," she said.

Others said they also felt endangered by the fighting.

"We got scared for our children," said Amir Ali, 40, who ran a metal workshop in the city for years. He fled with his five children when the explosions got too close to their home.

"It comes from both sides," he said. "I have no idea what kind of weapons they are, but it's all heavy stuff."

He said the shortages keep many people who would like to flee from getting out.

"There are many people inside who don't have cars to leave or can't get gas," he said. "Others don't want to leave."

In a boost to Libya's economy, Italian and French energy companies have resumed partial oil production in Libya after months of civil war, a potential economic lifeline for Libya's new government as it scrambles to rebuild.

Officials of Libya's transitional government are still awaiting U.N. action to unfreeze billions of dollars in assets. They say the funds unfrozen so far aren't enough to significantly rebuild Libya's health, education and other institutions after 42 years of languishing under Gadhafi's regime.

The country's de facto prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril, asked the U.N. Security Council to lift some of the economic sanctions on his country but said NATO should stay until civilians are no longer being killed.

Italian energy giant Eni said Monday it has resumed oil production in Libya after months of interruption due to the civil war that toppled Gadhafi's rule. By Monday, 15 wells had been tapped, producing some 31,900 barrels of oil per day.

The French energy company Total said it has restarted some production last week.

It was not clear how long it would take Libya to return to its pre-war production of 1.6 million barrels a day.

Libya sits atop Africa's largest proven reserves of conventional crude, and raked in $40 billion last year from oil and gas exports. Still, experts say it could take about a year or more to get Libya back to its pre-war production of 1.6 million barrels a day.

British Trade Minister Stephen Green also visited Tripoli and said his country's businesses are eager to take part in the rebuilding of Libya and will also assist with British expertise. But he said no strategic decisions would be made in Libya until the country has completed writing a new constitution and an elected government is in place.

Libya's new leaders have struggled to form a new interim Cabinet that could guide the country to elections.

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Hubbard reported from Sirte.

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Filed by Clare Richardson  |