The atmosphere is changing as one approaches the front-lines. Less than a week ago, it was possible to go as far forward as one dared. Now, arriving at the checkpoint at the western gate of Ajdabiya, we couldn’t pass any further.
The rebels did not want the media to go any further forward, they feared that live pictures were being used by the Qaddafi forces to target them. It makes sense. Except that in our car, we were two photographers and a text reporter. There would be no “live images” coming from us. But impossible to negotiate.
The mood against journalists also seemed to be changing. As we walked, dejectedly, from the checkpoint, a man with a loud-hailer was warning those present not to talk to journalists. “Don’t attack them, but don’t tell them anything, don’t let them photograph you” he said.
This was rather disconcerting, and we felt that it was time to make a sharp exit. Our driver later explained that people feared Qaddafi—or Israeli—spies amongst the ranks of the foreign press. The opposition fighters were rapidly losing ground as the loyalist forces approached Benghazi, and it was more comfortable to blame external agents than a superior army.
Back at the hospital in Ajdabiya, preparations were being made to evacuate it. Staff feared both shelling, and the advancing soldiers. Walking through the deserted corridors, we were led to a ward where the hospitals “last patient” was being evacuated; a young boy who would be taken to Benghazi. The remaining staff watched scenes from the front-line, less than 100km away, on Al-Jazeera. I wished I had made it through that checkpoint to be with them.
Less than thirty minutes after the boy’s evacuation, a wounded rebel was rushed through the doors. The hospital would not stay empty for long, it seemed. More sirens could be heard in the distance.
In the morgue of the hospital, over ten bodies lay in the freezers. All were unidentified fighters from the first week of fighting, over two weeks ago. Muslim tradition here states that the bodies should be buried before sunset, but with the identities of these men unknown, here they must rest.
And outside, a coffin lay, ready for the next casualty of the war.
The battle lines are drawing closer.