Hundreds trapped in Libya's Benghazi amid fighting

CAIRO: An international rights group expressed alarm Friday over the fate of hundreds of Libyan and foreign nationals trapped for months amid fighting in the eastern city of Benghazi.

Amnesty International said that nearly 130 families and hundreds of foreigners in the southwestern Benghazi neighbourhood of Ganfouda have been cut off from the outside world, with dwindling food and fuel supplies.

"Time is running out for civilians in Ganfouda, who are being left to die trapped by the fighting," said Magdalena Mughrabi, deputy director of Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa Program.

The fighting has raged in Benghazi since 2014 when forces commanded by powerful military commander Khalifa Hifter began a campaign against militants there, including branches of al-Qaida and the Islamic State group. Hifter, supported by British, French, and American military advisers and special forces, has managed to take control over much of the city. Ganfouda is one of the few districts where the militants have put up fierce resistance against Hifter's National Libyan Army forces.

However, international groups have been appealing for the creation of safe corridors to evacuate civilians trapped in Ganfouda.

Amnesty quoted a resident who identified himself as Mohamed as saying that residents are in desperate need for humanitarian supplies, especially the youngest residents.

"The children look like skin and bones because of the lack of food and poor nutrition . If they could just drop us some food for the children or get them out of here, even if that meant leaving the rest of us, that would be fine," he said.

Residents have taken to hosting displaced families whose houses were destroyed by airstrikes and shelling.

"We're living like animals," according to another resident whom Amnesty identified as Samir. He added that he has taken three families into his house bringing the number of residents to 24.

Amnesty feared that civilians caught in crossfire are facing mass punishment, under the pretext that they are supporters or sympathisers of the extremist Islamic militants.

"Civilians should not be used as human shields, and those who wish to leave must be protected from arbitrary detention, torture or any other abuses," said Mughrabi.