TORONTO – A Canadian man whose family is trapped in a militant-controlled area in the Libyan city of Benghazi is calling on Ottawa to help broker a ceasefire so innocent civilians can flee the fighting.
Ali Hamza, of Mississauga, Ont., says his 75-year-old mother, five siblings, sister-in-law and six young nieces are among about 130 families still living in the neighbourhood of Ganfouda, which is besieged by Libyan army troops that answer to a powerful military commander.
The North African nation has been plagued by violence and chaos since the ouster and death of longtime strongman Moammar Gadhafi in a 2011 civil war.
Since September, Hamza says his family and friends in Ganfouda have told him that homes have been destroyed, people have been killed and residents are running out of food, water, medication and other basic necessities.
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The 50-year-old is urging Ottawa to issue a statement calling for an immediate ceasefire in Ganfouda until families in the area can be evacuated.
A spokeswoman with Global Affairs Canada says the federal government is “deeply concerned” about the ongoing armed conflict in Libya, including the district of Ganfouda.
“Canada supports the work of humanitarian partners to facilitate free and unimpeded access to humanitarian assistance and to permit civilians who wish to leave to do so in safety and with dignity,” said Jocelyn Sweet.
But Hamza says that’s not enough. He believes a strong public stance from Canada on the situation in Ganfouda would have an impact.
“Canada is a humble country but its weight is known,” he said. “That’s why we’re asking Canada…do a statement to protect the civilians who have been entrapped there.”
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Hamza said the civilians in Ganfouda, including his family, have not been able to leave the area because they have not been guaranteed safe passage.
“Canada and the international community’s silence on Ganfouda has allowed armed groups to commit gross human rights violations without accountability,” he said. “It sends the message to Canadians that the life of my mother and my family is worthless. While they are not Canadian citizens, they are still my family.”
Hamza is also part of an informal group of activists who are trying to get a shipment of aid to Ganfouda, but those efforts have been put on hold due to the precarious security situation, he said.
Amnesty International has raised the alarm over the situation in Ganfouda, saying hundreds of Libyan and foreign nationals have been trapped in the neighbourhood for months, with dwindling food and fuel supplies. The group has also expressed concern about people in the area facing possible mass punishment under the pretext that they are supporters or sympathizers of the Islamic State group.
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Despite a UN-brokered peace deal reached a year ago, Libya remains divided between east and west, with no effective government and rival factions and militias – each side with backing from different foreign countries.
– with files from the Associated Press
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