A Grim Situation In Libya's Abu Salim Hospital

Dozens of corpses of men and women have been discovered at Abu Salim Hospital in the Libyan capital, Tripoli. Doctors and nurses reportedly fled after clashes erupted near the hospital between rebel forces and fighters loyal to Moammar Gadhafi. Melissa Block speaks with Al Jazeera's Andrew Simmons for details on the grim situation in the hospital.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host: Journalists and aid workers have witnessed another gruesome scene in the same area as that prison. The Abu Salim hospital had been cut off for days because of fierce fighting.

Andrew Simmons is a correspondent with Al Jazeera English. He first visited the hospital yesterday. And a note of warning - our conversation includes graphic descriptions of what he saw.

ANDREW SIMMONS: We were called to the hospital by a bystander on the street who seemed very distressed. When we arrived, we were confronted with this horrific image of a dead body on a gurney outside the hospital. Beyond that, there was a mound of bodies beside a garbage heap, which is just extraordinary when you consider this is a large hospital.

We went inside and followed a dry trail of blood. There was a hospital orderly there who was leading us through. And then, suddenly, we were handed masks for our faces and the stench was obviously awful, because a door was opened and we saw something like 20 more bodies inside a side ward, you know, meant for the treatment of patients but this was a makeshift morgue. It was absolutely appalling.

BLOCK: Were these men, women, children, Andrew?

SIMMONS: We could make out men and some women, only a few. We didn't see any children. And we weren't really in a position to be forensic over this.

BLOCK: Yes.

SIMMONS: Time was short. We wanted to establish what was going on in the hospital, what the medical position was. And, of course, all the time, there was a lot of fighting going on outside - artillery crashing in. So we didn't have a great deal of time to investigate thoroughly.

We did move on from the mortuary up to another area of the hospital and finally found some medics. But there are only seven medics in this hospital. It should have more than 200 staff - it's a specialist hospital. But everybody had run away with the fighting. And that was nearly six days ago.

So you had this small team of medics, only two of them doctors, trying to cope with remaining patients there - and that's who we saw next, 21 patients and many of them in a critical condition, in the most extraordinary circumstances because most of them needed surgery. And they couldn't be transferred to other medical facilities because of the fighting.

So the two doctors there were just really calling out for help - pretty desperate position.

BLOCK: Were you able to establish, Andrew, whether the people who died - the people you saw there at the hospital - died because they did not get emergency treatment or were they taken there so that the hospital became essentially a morgue?

SIMMONS: It was a bit of both, although the majority of the situation was people being taken there, from what we got from eyewitnesses afterwards. But there were stories of executions taking place near to the hospital. The Gadhafi force, operatives, just completely indiscriminately shooting people at close range - civilians.

We did see civilians who were being treated for gunshot wounds. We've since learned that ICRC, the International Red Cross Committee, sent a team in. And we've just been down to the hospital a short time ago to find that the hospital has been cleared. The 21 patients have been transferred to other medical facilities and the cleanup operation is beginning.

BLOCK: Andrew Simmons is a correspondent with Al Jazeera English in Tripoli.

Andrew, thank you very much.

SIMMONS: Thank you.

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