Stunned by the din of battle and surrounded by snipers, Egyptian workers spent a month holed up in their apartment in the heart of Sirte before being evacuated in the past few days by fighters of Libya’s new regime.
Now all they want is to get back home as soon as possible.
“I am done with Sirte now. I want to go to Misrata and go back to Egypt,” said Mohamed Zidan, 30, who had lived for four years in the Mediterranean city, the home town of deposed leader Moamer Kadhafi.
Zidan’s home, wedged between residential zones one and two on the coast, became a front line one month ago when the offensive against Sirte was launched by National Transitional Council (NTC) fighters.
“We were trapped. We had no car to use to escape and we were afraid of the Kadhafi snipers. We could hear the bullets flying outside. The walls were shaking, all the windows exploded during the fight,” he recalled.
Before becoming completely cut off from the world, without electricity and only limited water supplies, the group of Egyptians learned that Kadhafi, locally known as the “Guide,” had fled the capital Tripoli.
Their only hope since that day: the liberation of Sirte by the NTC, which although it had by Saturday overrun much of Sirte, it was still battling to snuff out the last pockets of pro-Kadhafi resistance in order to declare the full liberation of Libya.
“When we heard that Kadhafi was out like Mubarak, we were happy for our Libyan brothers but we were keeping quiet. We were watching the news but with low volume because otherwise Kadhafi troops would have killed us,” said another Egyptian, Mohamed Zuawi Budjelthiya.
Detained by the old regime’s police in September for having a video of the Egyptian revolution on his cell phone, the young man bears a large knife scar on his arm.
“We were waiting for the rebels… When we saw them we shouted at them and came out,” he said.
Since then, he has taken shelter, along with other Egyptians and Pakistanis, across from a field hospital at the exit of Sirte where ambulances shuttle back and forth carrying the latest casualties from the front.
“I am waiting for my Egyptian friends who are still stuck inside the city. I don’t know what happened to them,” said Hasan Abdeljali, 42, a construction worker employed for the last 25 years in Sirte.
After a month of famine, now he eats his fill “with the rebels.”
“We only had flour, I ate bread for a month, that’s it,” he said.
Before launching a final assault on Sirte, several NTC fighters and commanders swore that they wanted to make sure the civilians were gone first.
“The only solution for Sirte to fall is to attack with full force,” said NTC commander Mustafa al-Abyad.
“But families are supposed to still be inside the buildings along the coastline and we don’t want to kill them, even if they are Libyans who benefited from the Kadhafi regime,” he added.
“We fight, but we too are civilians,” Abyad said.