A doctor shows peace signs as he walks past rebel anti-aircraft guns set up at a checkpoint outside the town of Brega. Photo: Phill Magakoe

Ajdabiya, Libya - Hundreds of doctors from across the world, who have rushed to provide help in conflict-ridden Libya, are bracing for a flood of severely injured civilians and freedom fighters.

Among the doctors are 10 South African surgeons who travelled to Libya with the South African humanitarian organisation Gift of the Givers.

Doctors, nurses and paramedics - who include Libyan doctors living and working in countries abroad such as South Africa - have been placed on high alert at hospitals in the eastern towns of Libya.

Adding to the rapidly growing crisis are the government forces’ attacks on field hospitals and ambulances.

Reports have also emerged that Muammar Gaddafi has banned the distribution of blood supplies to injured civilians and is allowing medical treatment only for his fighters in areas held by his forces.

The alert follows heavy fighting between government forces and Interim Transitional National Council (ITNC) fighters in the oil-producing coastal town Ras Lanouf.

Gaddafi’s troops, along with hundreds of mercenaries from Libya’s neighbouring states, retook Ras Lanouf during heavy fighting on Thursday and Friday.

Ras Lanouf is one of Libya’s biggest oil-producing towns, and the government’s retaking of it is a major blow for the ITNC.

The assault, involving airstrikes and artillery bombardments, has seen scores of severely injured ITNC fighters and civilians being brought to the nearby towns of Ajdabiya, Brega and Benghazi.

Ras Lanouf’s capture is part of Gaddafi’s plan to retake the ITNC-held towns of Ajdabiya, Brega and their stronghold Benghazi – all less than 400km from Ras Lanouf.

Since falling, the town has been reinforced with hundreds of extra troops, tanks, artillery weapons, fighter jets and attack helicopters.

Ras Lanouf was held for a week by the ITNC after its forces took villages, towns and cities throughout the country’s eastern region during the start of last month’s revolution.

ITNC forces, who fled the city, are believed to be preparing for a major assault on the town to take it back from government troops.

Dr Salem Langhi, an ITNC medical co-ordinator whose 25-man team is working with Gift of the Givers doctors, said they had provided medical help to hundreds of fighters.

“There are thousands fighting on both sides. We are treating 30 to 40 seriously injured people a day, with at least 12 dying because of their injuries. We are expecting these numbers to increase drastically as the fighting increases.

“It is a desperate situation and we are short on nearly everything. We are having to improvise with what we have to try to save as many lives as possible.

“Our hospitals on the battlefields and in Brega have been attacked and our ambulances bombed.

“It is horrible. The injuries are difficult to treat because our hospitals are overflowing with doctors working day and night.

“We cannot stop. If we do, it means death, not only for us, but for the people who are fighting for freedom.

“We are afraid, but our fate is in the hands of Allah,” he said.

Langhi, welcoming the help of Gift of the Givers, said the medical supplies and equipment would go far in helping to save lives.

“The South African doctors will be used in hospitals in towns and mobile theatres and hospitals on the battlefields. We are in desperate need of every bit of help we can get.

“With the increase in fighting and planned battles, we are going to see a lot more devastation, killing and maiming.

“We need whatever medical assistance we can get, especially surgeons who have their own equipment and medicines. We need urgent help and we need it now.”

Gift of the Givers founder Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, who is leading the team in Libya, said they would go wherever they were needed.

“We are here to do a job, and whatever we are needed to do we will do. We have orthopedic and general surgeons with us who can provide vitally needed treatment.

“We have all been placed on alert and will staff the hospitals as well as any field hospitals in battlefields.

“The team are all experts in their fields and we are more than ready for the expected rush,” he said. - Pretoria News