The Turkish ferry sent to rescue hundreds of wounded Libyans from the fighting has left Benghazi to sail for home.
On board are 250 evacuees awaiting medical treatment in Turkey. Some have been recounting the horrors they left behind, as for 40 days Gaddafi’s forces assaulted the besieged city of Misrata.
“We were bombarded every day by Gaddafi’s tanks and missiles. In Misrata people can’t even leave their houses,” said one wounded rebel.
They have bullet and shrapnel wounds – and tales of everyday hardship in the town cut off from the world.
“In the city there is no more water, no more electricity, no more medecine, no more communications and not much food,” said another man.
The Ankara was chartered by the Turkish government. After four days waiting offshore, Turkey says it was finally given the green light by Gaddafi’s government for the ship to dock in Misrata.
It entered the port, protected by 10 F-16 fighters and two frigates, and picked up its wounded human cargo. The ship sailed on to Benghazi, where it took on board another hundred or so injured people before heading for Cesme in Turkey.
Turkey, NATO’s only Muslim country, has kept open relations with both sides in Libya. It has strong historical ties with the country, which was part of the Ottoman empire before World War One. Despite Ankara’s reticence over allied military action, Libya’s opposition is now grateful for the humanitarian aid.
“We would like to thank the Turkish government for this help and we urge them to stand with us, to help us in getting our freedom, our liberty. We would like to ask Mr Erdogan (the Turkish prime minister) to stand with the free Libyan people and not with the regime,” said Iman Gaigas of the Libyan National Council.
Even before the Ankara set sail, Turkey had already secured the safe evacuation of nearly 20,000 of its own nationals. Its latest move may not be its last in what appears to be a growing role in the region.