FEATURE-Misrata wounded impatient to get back to the fight

Thu Jul 14, 2011 1:41pm EDT

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* Clinic patients say shot by pro-Gaddafi forces

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* "We're part of the war effort" - clinic staff

By Nick Carey

MISRATA, Libya, July 14 (Reuters) - When Omar Suasi surrendered to the soldiers loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, he expected them to arrest him.

The 26-year-old truck driver had taken up arms against Gaddafi after soldiers about a month earlier opened fire on a crowd of unarmed people in Misrata who had been protesting for greater freedom. He says that when the troops surrounded him, he put down his gun and lay on the ground.

"They shot me twice in the stomach as I lay there," Suasi says, pointing to his abdomen, while undergoing physiotherapy treatment at a new clinic in the rebel-controlled city.

Had his friends not come to rescue him, he says he would have died. "Allah gave me a second chance."

He is now driving vehicles to help the other rebel fighters who are seeking to end Gaddafi's 41-year rule and have pushed the front line against his forces to around 35 km (22 miles) west of Misrata.

But as he lifts a light weight with his right leg, Suasi says he has only one desire for how to use his second chance: he plans to return to the front line to fight. He has four brothers serving there and a fifth was killed fighting Gaddafi's troops.

"I will fight so that I can live with dignity," he said. "And if I die, then it will be so my children can live with dignity."

The clinic Suasi and other men are attending was set up and is run free of charge by the University of Misrata's Faculty of Medical Technology, which was occupied by Gaddafi loyalists until late April.

The clinic opened in late June, has a staff of 10 volunteers and has around 60 patients, 40 men and 20 women.

Agila Erfaida, a physiotherapy lecturer who runs the clinic, says more than 2,000 people have been wounded so far in the city and he expects demand for the services here to rise.

"Many of the wounded have been treated outside Libya," he said. "But when they return they will need our help."

"WORTH THE PRICE"

Gaddafi has denied his forces deliberately targeted civilians, saying that they opened fire against armed criminals and al Qaeda militants.

Mustafa Esmaio, 54, tells a different story. On March 16 he was standing in front of his house in Misrata smoking a cigarette, one leg on a low wall, his arm resting on that leg.

He said pro-Gaddafi soldiers appeared and began shooting indiscriminately.

Lifting up his trouser legs to reveal the scars, he says a bullet from a 14.5 mm anti-aircraft gun used on civilians on his street cut through his raised right leg and cut a chunk out of his right arm before passing through his left leg.

His brother and one of his sons died in the fighting, another son is in the hospital injured and a third is at the front, fighting the pro-Gaddafi forces who surround Misrata on three sides.

"All of this will be easy to bear if we get rid of Gaddafi," he said, as he pedalled on an exercise bike to help strengthen left leg.

Mohammed Erhyam, 49, was shot by Gaddafi loyalists a total of 13 times on March while walking along the street - five times in each leg and three times in his left arm.

Lying on a bed where a volunteer was massaging his feet to help with nerve damage, his legs are a patchwork of scars.

Erhyam has had three operations, one in Misrata, a second in Turkey and a third in Tunisia. He is now trying to raise the 24,000 euros ($34,000) he needs for elbow replacement surgery in Germany.

"It is a lot of money," he said, calmly. "But if we beat Gaddafi it will be worth the price."

The resilience of the young men is striking.

Mohammed Gola, 21, was studying to become an accountant before the war. He joined the fight and was injured in a mortar attack on June 17 on the front east of Misrata. Two pieces of shrapnel sliced into his right leg, breaking the bone.

He has a platinum plate in the leg now and walks with crutches. While he recovers, Gola works putting 14.5 mm and 23 mm bullets into links to be fed into large machine guns and anti-aircraft guns. But that is only until he can walk again.

"As soon as I can, I will go back to the front line," he said. "It is my duty."

One of the faculty staff at the clinic, Mahmoud Attaweil, said that his 20-year-old son Ahmed was in a similar situation after being wounded in the back in early July during a mortar attack.

Ahmed has already visited his friends on the front line and talks only about going back to fight.

"I am not as brave as these young men," Attaweil said. "I could not do the amazing things they have achieved ... But through this clinic I hope I can play a least a small role in helping them win this war." (Editing by Alison Williams) ($1=.7054 Euro)

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