The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has said it will stay in Libya, despite suspending its work in the port of Misrata and in the eastern city of Benghazi following an attack by unknown forces.
The Swiss-run aid organisation said seven of its aid workers were inside their residence in Misrata when it came under attack from grenades and rockets on Sunday. No one was hurt, but damage to the building was extensive.
Pulling out is “a temporary measure and we’re looking into the security. We’re discussing this with the authorities and are stepping up our dialogue,” Soaade Messoudi, communications coordinator for the ICRC in Tripoli, told swissinfo.ch on Monday.
“Depending on how the situation evolves, we’ll hopefully be able to return in order to deliver the much-needed humanitarian assistance and support to people who need us.”
Messoudi added the ICRC was not currently planning to pull out of other areas of Libya.
“We will maintain our presence. As a temporary measure we are taking out our staff because of the volatile security situation, the direct targeting, which was very ferocious in Misrata.”
It was the fifth time in less than three months that violence was directed against the independent aid agency in Libya, the ICRC said in a statement, which stressed its neutrality.
Several violent incidents have rocked Libya in recent days, including the kidnapping on Tuesday in Benghazi of seven Iranian relief workers who were official guests of the Libyan Red Crescent Association.
“Diplomatic missions, diplomatic personnel and also the UN and ICRC have been targeted,” Messoudi said.
“We think that besides the general feeling against foreigners, we have an additional problem in Libya in that we are perceived by some groups in Libya as a religious Christian organisation because of our emblem, the red cross,” she said.
“We have to put considerable efforts now into explaining the exact identity and the mandate of the International Committee of the Red Cross.”
In its statement, the ICRC said it had a humanitarian mandate to protect people affected by armed conflict and other situations of violence and to provide them with assistance.
“The ICRC is not involved in political or religious activities of any kind, neither in Libya nor anywhere else,” it added.
Throughout the revolt last year that ousted Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi, ICRC aid workers delivered food and medical assistance to civilians, including those trapped in Misrata, which was long held by rebels under siege by Gaddafi’s troops.
swissinfo.ch and agencies