Injured fighters can't wait to get back to the hell of the front line

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Abdulfatah Albusefi can't walk but he insists that he can fight. A sniper's bullet shattered the 27-year-old's pelvis less than three weeks ago during the siege of Misrata. He had to be helped on to the fishing boat in Benghazi that will take him back to the fighting.

"I will sit in the heavy machine gun," he says with relish. "I was getting good at that."

The former taxi driver was one of 25 walking wounded waiting on the quayside. They had been evacuated from the besieged city in western Libya for treatment in Tunisia, but checked themselves out of hospital to return to the fight. The journey home was arduous enough: from Tunisia, the men flew to Cairo before a drive through the north African desert to Benhazi; a trip that takes a minimum of 14 hours. From there it is a boat trip back to Misrata, where the harbour is being bombed by Gaddafi's forces.

Shuffling awkwardly on crutches around the deck of one of the flotilla of fishing vessels that make the five-day round trip to Misrata, Albusefi admits that he missed the fighting: "It's hell. But it's my hell and I would be glad to go back there to die."

One hundred and twenty wounded fighters, evacuated during the two-month assault by pro-Gaddafi forces, have arrived in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi but the captain of the al-Harth – the "bodyguard" – could find room for only 25 of them.

As the wind whips off the Mediterranean after dusk, Hassan Omar Asreidi has to ask for help to put his coat on. His left arm is in a sling after being shattered by shrapnel from the same mortar that killed the news photographers Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington. Another piece of metal had to be removed from Asreidi's stomach.

"I can fire a rocket launcher," he says, flexing his good arm. "I'm sorry about the journalists. They didn't have to die. They were telling truth, not fighting."

The 36-year-old remembers seeing regime soldiers 300 metres away who he believes called in the mortar attack. The ambulance couldn't get to them because it was being targeted by the other side, he said, so they had to use a pickup truck to get the wounded away from the shooting.

He has seen the pro-government forces using ambulances, fire engines and even rubbish trucks as cover to launch attacks on the rebels.

Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands more wounded in a vicious battle for Libya's third-largest city, with the aid agencies condemning pro-Gaddafi forces for indiscriminately shelling residential areas.

Asreidi has been worried the battle will finish without him. "If I listened to the doctors I would be in bed for two months," he says.

Beneath the talk of martyrdom, the young fighters admit to being haunted by what they have seen.

Albusefi remembers seeing his friend Khaled die slowly after being shot by a sniper. "They were using him as a trap," he says. "One of our guys was killed trying to get to him."

A devout Muslim who prays five times a day and likes to be called "Guevara", Albusefi says the new Libya he is fighting for will not be an Islamic state like Saudi Arabia or Iran. "It will be like Dubai and better," he says.

But first they have to deal with Colonel Gaddafi. "After 42 years it's time to put down that dog."