Fighting continues in Tripoli amid rebel celebrations

Tensions run high in Tripoli as rebel fighters move slowly to secure strategic streets and buildings.
A Libyan rebel fighter fires from the back of his vehicle towards Moammar Qaddafi's Bab al Aziziya compound in Tripoli today. The Libyan strongman's whereabouts remain unknown.
A Libyan rebel fighter fires from the back of his vehicle towards Moammar Qaddafi's Bab al Aziziya compound in Tripoli today. The Libyan strongman's whereabouts remain unknown.

TRIPOLI //Libyan rebels claimed to be in control of almost all of the country's capital city yesterday - but they were advancing slowly. On Omar Mukhtar road, the street which leads to Green Square, snipers were still hiding in the buildings, rebel fighters said.

As for the country's ruler of 42 years, Muammar Qaddafi's whereabouts were still not known last night.

Fierce fighting took place at Bab al Azizia, where Col Qaddafi's security compound is situated. According to some rebel reports he was still there in hiding with his entourage.

"The real moment of victory is when Qaddafi is captured," the head of the opposition's National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, said at a news conference in the eastern city of Benghazi.

Mr Abdel-Jalil said he hoped Col Qaddafi, who faces an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity, would be "captured alive so that he will be given a fair trial".

The international community again called on Col Qaddafi to step down and avoid more bloodshed, while moving ahead with post-war planning.

The US assistant secretary of state, Jeffrey Feltman, said in a television interview from Cairo that it was "only a matter of time" before Col Qaddafi was "history". Mr Feltman said he thought it was "very clear that the rebels are winning".

"The rebels are taking over the city. They are clearly taking over the institutions," he said in an interview on ABC television's Good Morning America.

The British prime minister, David Cameron, said yesterday: "Qaddafi must stop fighting, without conditions, and clearly show that he has given up any claim to control Libya." But he warned against complacency.

Nato promised to maintain its air campaign until all pro-Qaddafi forces surrendered or returned to barracks. Nato warplanes have hit at least 40 targets in and around Tripoli over the past two days - the highest number on a single geographic location since the bombing started more than five months ago, the alliance said.

On Sunday night, Tripoli residents and rebel fighters, arriving in hundreds from outside town, celebrated with gunfire, chanting anti-Qaddafi slogans and burning the green flags of the regime.

Celebrations started 50 kilometres west from Tripoli, on the road to Zawiyah, and when they reached the heart of Col Qaddafi's stronghold news of the arrest of his son, Seilf El Islam, strengthened the sense that the regime was finally disintegrating.

But yesterday, the capital was still not secured and tension was high. Fighting continued in parts of town. The city did not look at all like a liberated city.

Despite the cheering of the rebels on their pick-up trucks, all the windows of the houses were shut and the few residents who ventured out on their balconies were shouted down by rebels who ordered them back inside to avoid to be taken for snipers.

Rebel leaders used megaphones at every checkpoint to tell residents to help with security, report every suspect and be aware of snipers still hiding in buildings.

In the western neighbourhood of Seyahia, rebels guarded the Petroleum Institute.

"We are trying to secure every single street, strategic places, schools, governments and institution buildings," said Abu Baker Al Muaqaf, a 32-year-old member of one of the rebel Tripoli brigade sent in with the task of securing the capital.

"We want to avoid looting and burning of public buildings because we want to use them straight away to govern the country," said Mr Al Muaqaf.

The battle for Tripoli was ignited by rebel "sleeper" cells. On Sunday afternoon, the first line that poured into the city was made up of armed men from Tripoli, some of who were trained by Qatari special forces for urban warfare.

The second and third lines were on the ground and working with local residents who took the streets to protect their own neighbourhoods.

* With additional reports from Associated Press and Agence-France Presse


Published: August 23, 2011 04:00 AM


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