Page last updated at 10:14 GMT, Saturday, 13 August 2011 11:14 UK

Libya's rebel-held Misrata numbed by loss and trauma

Misrata's main fuel depot on fire after being bombed by Gaddafi's forces

Orla Guerin
BBC News, Misrata

Five months on since Nato began bombing targets in Libya, Colonel Gaddafi has still not been dislodged. The people in the rebel-held port of Misrata have learned to live with the constant fear that death could come at any moment.

Over a cup of mint tea, Mahmood El Gellai was sharing his worries about his young daughters.

This successful engineer, and former rollerskater also worked for us as a translator. He had dropped by our office to plan some interviews. But his family was on his mind.

"My girls want to go outside," he said. "They keep asking me why not. I tell them it's not safe because of the rockets. It makes me feel very bad."

Tomorrow will be better we say... but it seems we have been lying
Dr Hakim Zagut

The words were barely out of his mouth when we heard the first explosion. It was followed almost immediately by two more - the sickening sound of rockets landing downtown, about 2km (1.5 miles) from our hotel.

Colonel Gaddafi's forces still menace Misrata from a distance. This was the first time his long-range weapons reached so far into the city centre.

It was close to midnight - a busy time during the holy month of Ramadan.

Many here go out to work, shop and socialise at night after breaking their fast. We rushed to the local hospital to check for casualties. No-one was killed - this time.

Bad memories

I recognised the doctor tending to one of the injured. Hakim Zagut, a compassionate and dedicated young surgeon, was leaning over a man with a ball bearing embedded in his cheek.

I last saw Dr Zagut in April, when Misrata was being shelled almost daily. Four months on, he looked drained - like he had hardly rested since.

Children play on a destroyed tank
A destroyed tank can become a play area to explore

"We have been saying for months that things will get better," he told me, his voice shaking with emotion.

"We tell the nurses this when they get scared after an attack.

"'Tomorrow will be better', we say. We've been saying it for so long, but it seems we have been lying," he said.

But Dr Zagut had reason to be thankful that night. He too has young daughters, who had pleaded to be brought out in the cool night air.

"I had to say no because I had an appointment with a patient."

Had he said yes, they would have been in a playground in the city centre when the rockets came slamming down.

As we filmed, Mahmood stood by in silence, ambushed by bad memories.

"We collected my brother's body from this hospital," he said finally.

"When we got outside, we had to run with his body because there were snipers all around."

His brother Nouraddeen, a lawyer, died in the fight to free Misrata.

Isolated and alone

The city has been liberated - up to a point. The regime's men have been driven out, but they are just over half an hour's drive away.

Misrata is still cut off - accessible only by sea. And the city has been numbed by layer upon layer of loss and trauma - much of it unspoken.

Local medical officials believe about 1,000 people have been killed and 8,000 injured.

There have been amputees. And then there are the missing - another 900 or so.

One family has more than 10 missing members. A 13-year-old boy has been waiting for them here, wondering if they will ever come home.

Cars queue for petrol
Petrol queues are part of everyday life in Misrata

Across the city, 16-year-old Ali Abdullah has been mourning his brother-in-law Youssef, a doctor. He died with two of his neighbours. Ali showed me the bench where they were sitting, when a rocket landed on their street.

"He was always giving me advice, telling me to study hard. And he would take me with him when he went to the market," Ali said.

He last saw the doctor a week before he died. "He came to return money I had lent him when we were shopping," Ali said.

It was just a small amount.

"I said we are family - I don't want the money back. But he said, 'I must repay you because nobody knows the moment when they will die'."

United front

In Misrata, death can come raining down at any moment.

People here insist that sooner or later, Colonel Gaddafi will be beaten. "Game over", proclaims graffiti on the walls.

But some wonder if the international community will stay the course. They worry that Nato will not keep up its bombing campaign indefinitely.

And then there are the problems many in Misrata do not like to talk about - disorganisation and disunity in the anti-Gaddafi camp, tribal divides, and chaos in the rebel capital Benghazi.

Two weeks after the rebels' own chief of staff was killed - not on the battlefield, but close to Benghazi - the circumstances have still not been fully explained.

Rebel commanders here know the West is watching. They are trying to get their house in order.

"Before, they were united but not organised," said a foreign doctor.

"Now they are getting organised - but into different groups."

But unity remains the mantra for most here.

"We will be one hand after Gaddafi is gone," a local man told me.

Maybe, maybe not. And six months on, there is still no sign that the regime is going.

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