Libyan rebels have committed a host of human rights abuses in four towns they’ve captured, including beating suspected Gadhafi loyalists, burning their homes, and looting businesses and at least two medical centers, Human Rights Watch said today. These reprisals have driven people from their homes, leaving three of the towns in question—Qawalish, Awaniya, and Zawiyat al-Bagul—essentially deserted. A regional commander tells the New York Times such violence isn’t sanctioned, but that same commander acknowledged and defended the abuses to Human Rights Watch.
“Those people who were beaten were working for Gadhafi’s brigades,” he said, adding that if not for the orders that were issued against looting, “people would have burned these towns down to the ground.” Another rebel said that when they attack towns, they have intelligence about residents who are helping the army, so “we go straightaway to those homes,” with some rebels taking it on themselves to burn them. Abuses or no, the rebels' edge may be growing: Gadhafi’s forces are low on cash, and could suffer fuel shortages within a month, US officials tell the AP. (Read more Libya stories.)