COLUMN-Report from an eye-witness in Tripoli

Tue Feb 22, 2011 11:11am GMT

The following is a guest contribution from Lisa Goldman, a Canadian-Israeli journalist based in Tel Aviv, based on an interview she had on Monday evening with an eye-witness in Tripoli. This was originally published on +972 magazine here

Reuters is not responsible for the content.

TEL AVIV, Feb 22 - Yesterday evening (21 February) I was able to speak via Skype for about 20 minutes with a friend who lives in Sarraj, a suburb of Tripoli that is located 10 kilometers west of the city's center. He agreed to my publishing a summary of the main points of our conversation; and he also answered some follow-up questions via email. Ali, which is not his real name, speaks fluent American English; his background, which I will not specify, makes him qualified to give reliable information about certain military matters.

The atmosphere in Sarraj is fearful and tense, but otherwise calm. There is no violence on the streets, but everyone can hear loud caliber rounds fired every few seconds. "This proves that sniping is taking place," writes Ali in his email. "It means, actually, that someone is aiming and shooting at something and apparently not wasting his ammo too much with careful firing. It is an eerie feeling to stand outside and hear this."

He also saw three Chinook helicopters flying over his neighborhood, heading north toward the center of the city. More details about that below. Ali and his neighbors take turns patrolling the neighborhood around the clock, to protect it from roaming mercenary soldiers; but otherwise they stay at home. Since Qaddafi's regime enforced a strict ban on civilians owning firearms, they are using makeshift weapons to protect themselves. Ali said he is armed with a crowbar. The mercenaries, Ali said, are everywhere. They come mostly from Chad and Darfur.

The government briefly blocked access to Aljazeera and other satellite television stations, but then stopped. Libyans are now able to watch satellite television, and they do have access to the internet, although the connection is unstable and capricious. There was quite a lot of interference during our conversation via Skype, with Ali's voice breaking up several times. He said that he can access his Gmail account from his laptop computer, but not from his iPhone. In terms of infrastructure, water and electricity are fine. His family stocked up on food and supplies before the current troubles began, and are not worried about shortages.

Ali confirmed readily that he was afraid. He said that neither he nor his friends have any sense of how the situation in Libya would play out. "On the one hand I cannot believe that things can go back to the way they were before all this," he said. "But on the other hand, Qaddafi obviously does not have any limits. We knew he was crazy, but it's still a terrible shock to see him turning mercenaries on his own people and just mowing down unarmed demonstrators. So yeah, we knew he was crazy. But maybe we did not realize he was that crazy. It's a scary and devastating feeling to be here now." Ali said that he knew for a confirmed fact that civilian airplanes were being used to fly soldiers and weapons to Benghazi.   Continued...

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