Air strikes continue in Ras Lanuf as civilians evacuate

Lina El-Wardani , Tuesday 8 Mar 2011

Gaddafi forces continue to launch air strikes on the rebel-held oil port of Ras Lanuf, in a renewed offensive Tuesday

Ras Lanuf
Anti-Gaddafi rebel runs away as smoke rises following an air strike by Libyan warplanes in the oil town of Ras Lanouf, eastern Libya, Monday, (AP).

Last Sunday, Al-Fadeel hotel in the western Libyan city of Ras Lanuf -- the only hotel in the area -- was packed to the brim with journalists. In fact, many had to share a room or sleep on the sofas in the lobby. But early Monday morning, around 5:00am, the staff woke everyone up, knocking on their doors and screaming, “You have to leave now; the hotel will soon be targeted by (Libyan leader Col Muammar) Gaddafi’s forces.” Everyone ran. Later, some revolutionaries called, informing reporters the hotel is safe and that the manager was pro Gaddafi and got orders to scare journalists. They urged reporters to go back.

Some reporters managed to get back to the hotel that was by now under the revolutionaries’ control. Others fled to Agdabeya town, two hours away from Ras Lanuf. At the Al-Fadeel hotel, anti-Gaddafi fighters were able to force the manager out and clear the hotel of any staff. After which, they announced that everything was under control. They instructed journalists to keep their keys with them at all times and told them they wouldn’t need to pay for their rooms.

“You’re doing us a great favour by reporting on the massacres here and risking your lives for us in the midst of air raids and gun fire,” said one of the revolutionaries after apologising for any inconveniences.

Sunday saw three major air strikes on Ras Lanuf alone. The latest strike killed a family of three in their car.

Towards the evening, air raid sirens could be heard as a sense of danger lingered in the air. The same revolutionaries who had previously invited us to remain at the hotel now urged all journalists to leave, providing cars for those who didn’t have one.

Anti-regime fighters also directed residents of Ras Lanuf to leave the area. “We want residents to relocate to the safer eastern cities like Ajdabya and Benghazi, so we can fight without worrying about civilians,” said Suleiman Al-Qabeili, 23.

As a result, the road to Ras Lanuf last night was heavily congested with families fleeing the area as ambulances and revolutionaries rushed to get in.

The Benghazi revolutionary radio channel kept urging fighters to join their fellow rebels in Ras Lanuf, Ben Jawwad, Mesratta and El Zawya, which are all under heavy air raids by Gaddafi’s forces.

In the meantime, air strikes continue to hit very close to oil fields raising anxiety levels. Air raids destroyed Libyana Phone Company’s main reception area in Ras Lanuf forcing the company to close its branches today amidst fears of continued air raids.

Revolutionaries have withdrawn from Ben Jawwad after mercenaries and Gaddafi troops used families as human shields to discourage rebel fire.

Although air strikes continued day and night in both Ras Lanuf and Ben Jawwad, the anti-regime fighters managed to control the oil rich area and evacuate most of its residents. They also managed to control the Ras Lanuf airport, blocking the runway.

Firing gun shots in the air, the fighters continue to go back and forth between Ben Jawwad and Ras Lanuf in order to avoid air strikes.

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