SA medical team due back home

2011-03-17 07:05

A South African medical and media team evacuated from Jidabia in Libya earlier this week was expected to return home tomorrow, its team leader said.

“We just arrived in Cairo now after 20 hours of travelling and we will leave tonight for South Africa,” Imtiaz Sooliman, who is also the Gift of the Givers founder, said today in a telephone interview.

The 22-member team which included journalists from SABC, Avusa, Media24, Kagiso and Voice of the Cape were expected to touch down at OR Tambo International at 11am tomorrow.

None were injured. Two other doctors from Denmark who had joined the South African team will return to their country last night.

The doctors were helping casualties at Jidabia hospital when they were asked to leave.

“We didn’t want to leave. We were requested to because foreigners, doctors and especially journalists were being targeted and attacked in Jidabia.

“In the last 48 hours, eight journos had disappeared and were presumed dead in Libya. Four were from the New York Times and four were from the BBC,” he said.

Sooliman said the team was not scared but had to move out as the hospital and the city was being shut down.

“The entire medical staff from the hospital was pulled out and about 30 hours after we left Gaddafi’s men bombed the city and the hospital.

“There are hundreds of casualties in the city now but no one can get in or out...We wanted to do more but there’s not much we can do, ” he said.

“Before we could leave, we could feel the tension everywhere due to the rioting.”

Describing the atmosphere in Libya, Sooliman said: “There is constant bombing and one can’t even walk on the streets because bombs are falling everywhere. It’s impossible.

“City by city, the country is being torn apart. Tanks are all over and the attacks on civilians continue,” he said.

The first team had landed in Jidabia on March 4 with medical equipment and supplies as political clashes continued.

The second team arrived a week later. The team had repatriated 32 refugees on commercial flights.

Earlier this year, a revolt erupted in Libya, one of Africa’s biggest oil producers, against long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Thousands have fled amid violent clashes between government forces and regime opponents that witnesses have described as a “civil war”.

At least 1 000 people have died and there is a “humanitarian emergency” in Libya, according to the United Nations.

In February, 30 South Africans evacuated from Libya arrived home. Among them were South African embassy officials.

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