March 10, 2011 / 11:28 AM / 9 years ago

Libya engulfed in civil war as casualties rise: ICRC

GENEVA (Reuters) - Libya has descended into civil war with increasing numbers of wounded civilians arriving in hospitals in eastern cities, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Thursday.

ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger called on Libyan authorities to grant the humanitarian agency access to western areas including the capital Tripoli so as to assess needs.

He also reminded both Libyan forces and insurgents that under international humanitarian law it is prohibited to target civilians, medical facilities and ambulances.

“We have now a non-international armed conflict, or what you would call civil war,” Kellenberger told a news conference. “We see increasing numbers of wounded arriving at hospitals in the east and we are extremely worried.”

The ICRC, one of the few international aid agencies in Libya, has set up a base in rebel-held Benghazi in the east where it is helping to perform war surgery and supply hospitals.

Kellenberger said he had no overall casualty figures for the country or reports on the western city of Zawiyah, which appeared to change hands twice during the day on Wednesday in a hard-fought battle.

But he said that fighting had intensified and local doctors had seen a sharp rise in casualties, with at least 22 bodies and 40 wounded in Misrata after recent air strikes. Some 55 wounded were treated in Ajdabiyah hospital in the east this week.

Top Libyan authorities whom he declined to identify had personally told him there was no need for outside help in the areas held by Libyan forces, according to Kellenberger, a former Swiss diplomat.

“We don’t know what the humanitarian needs are in areas controlled by Tripoli. I was told everything is under control, all hospitals are working perfectly, there is no need for external humanitarian assistance,” he said.

“You can only assist people when you have access. Our first priority is to have access to areas controlled by Tripoli.”

U.N. agencies remain shut out from Libya for security reasons, but are increasingly alarmed at sketchy reports of mounting casualties and needs in besieged cities, U.N. officials said on Wednesday.

Editing by Jonathan Lynn and Elizabeth Fullerton

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