Fighting Centres On Gaddafi's Compound As Concern Grows For Tripoli's Children

23/08/2011 14:58 | Updated 24 October 2011

Fighting between loyalist and rebel forces has intensified in Tripoli as aid organisations warn of indiscriminate attacks on civilians.

Attacks on Colonel Gaddafi's compound multiplied one day after the rebels took control of large swathes of the city.

Hospitals in the region reported a high number of casualties as Gaddafi's forces fought back, dashing any hopes that the regime would swiftly collapse. Attacks were also seen near to the Rixos Hotel, where many foreign journalists are staying, and heavy gunfire and rocket attacks erupted in several other areas of the city.

Reports also emerged of at least two deaths and several casualties including a young child, resulting from rocket attacks by Gaddafi's forces.

The developments came as Hassiba Sahraoui, Amnesty International's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, warned about indiscriminate attacks on civilians.

"We fear the civilian population is going to be held in the middle of the fighting," she said. "From what we know from the recent past absolutely no precautions will be taken [by Gaddafi] to preserve civilian life or to try and spare civilians."

Weapons already used by loyalist forces in other areas have the potential to kill or maim many civilians who are trying to shelter from the conflict, she said.

"We're talking about rocket-propelled grenades, indiscriminate attacks where soldiers shoot without any warning, or use cluster bombs. We haven't had any reports yet of cluster bombs used in Tripoli but we've have plenty of information about the use of cluster bombs in Misrata, for example."

Neither is the problem specific to Gaddafi. Rebel forces have also been known to use tactics that target civilians either directly or indirectly, Sahraoui said.

"The other concern is whether the National Transitional Council is really in control of the nebulous groups that are around the NTC. And while the head of the NTC is making the right statements regarding the protection of civilians we do feat that they are not really in control of the various armed groups that are carrying out the fighting."

"The question really to Colonel Gaddafi is, does he want to add to the already long list of crimes for which he will be held to account?"

Other groups are warning of the wider humanitarian impact of the conflict. Power, water and health care are already suffering, they say, and longer-term psychological and educational impacts are also dangerous the longer the conflict continues.

Emma Munford, humanitarian advisor for Save The Children, said: "We are concerned about any children caught in the middle, who might be hiding in buildings, or sheltering from the conflict at present. There is also a psychological impact that we will be very worried about ... Power cuts and access to drinking water in certain circumstances can be cut off, and then after or during any conflict there is a risk of unexploded ordinance posing a great danger to children before it is cleared."

At present groups like Save The Children are unable to reach the city, which they say is hampering efforts to help reduce the impact of conflict.

"What we want to do is get our team into Tripoli as soon as possible," Munford said. "We've got teams in Libya at present and they've been working in Benghazi and Misrata, who have been working to help children who have been affected by the conflict."

"A big concern for us is that the school term should start again on September 5, and we're anxious to get our teams in to make sure children can get back into school," she said.

Meanwhile, Tripoli was still in a state of some confusion after the appearance late on Tuesday of a free and defiant Saif al-Islam, Colonel Gaddafi's son, who had previously been reported arrested by the NTC and the International Criminal Court.

Fadi el-Abdallah, a spokesperson for the ICC, attempted to explain the mistake to the BBC: "What we said yesterday is that we received information about the arrest of Saif al-Islam and we were trying to confirm that by contacting the National Transitional Council in Libya, but Saif al-Islam Gaddafi was not under the custody of the ICC."