Euphoric Libyan rebels moved into the capital Tripoli yesterday and moved close to centre with little resistance as Muammar Gaddafi’s defenders melted away. The opposition’s leaders said Gaddafi’s sons Seif Al Islam and Al Saadi, have been arrested and another son Mohammed had surendered to rebels. The Libyan government claimed that 1,300 people were killed in the besieged capital.
Reporters with the rebels said they met little resistance as they moved from the western outskirts into the capital in a dramatic turning of the tides in the 6-month-old Libyan civil war.
“They will enter Green Square tonight, God willing,” said Mohammed Al Zawi, a 30-year-old rebel in the force that was moving in. Green Square has been the site of night rallies by Gaddafi supporters throughout the uprising.
Gaddafi’s regime appeared to be rapidly crumbling.
Earlier in the day, the rebels overran a major military base defending the capital, carted away truckloads of weapons and raced to Tripoli with virtually no resistance.
The rebels’ surprising and speedy leap forward, after six months of largely deadlocked civil war, was packed into just a few dramatic hours. By nightfall, they had advanced more than 20 miles to Gadhafi’s stronghold.
Along the way, they freed several hundred prisoners from a regime lockup. The fighters and the prisoners — many looking weak and dazed and showing scars and bruises from beatings — embraced and wept with joy.
Thousands of jubilant civilians rushed out of their homes to cheer the long convoys of pickup trucks packed with rebel fighters shooting in the air. Some were hoarse, shouting: “We are coming for you, frizz-head,” a mocking nickname for Gadhafi. In villages along the way that fell to the rebels one after another, mosque loudspeakers blared “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is great.”
“We are going to sacrifice our lives for freedom,” said Nabil Al Ghowail, a 30-year-old dentist holding a rifle in the streets of Janzour, a suburb just six miles west of Tripoli. Heavy gunfire
As town after town fell and Gaddafi forces melted away, the mood turned euphoric. Some shouted: “We are getting to Tripoli tonight.” Others were shooting in the air, honking horns and yelling “Allahu Akbar.”
Once they reached Tripoli, the rebels took control of one neighbourhood, Ghot Shaal, on the western edge of the city. They set up checkpoints as rebel trucks rolled into Tripoli. A convoy of more than 10 trucks entered Ghot Shaal.
The rebels moved on to the neighborhood of Girgash, about a mile and a half from Green Square. They said they came under fire from a sniper on a rooftop in the neighbourhood.
Sidiq Al Kibir, the rebel leadership council’s representative for the capital Tripoli, confirmed the arrest of Seif Al Islam but did not give any further details.
Inside Tripoli, widespread clashes erupted for a second day between rebel “sleeper cells” and Gaddafi loyalists. Rebel fighters who spoke to relatives in Tripoli by phone said hundreds rushed into the streets in anti-regime protests in several neighbourhoods.
Libyan state television aired an angry audio message from Gaddafi last night, urging families in Tripoli to arm themselves and fight for the capital.
“The time is now to fight for your politics, your oil, your land,” he said. “I am with you in Tripoli — together until the ends of the earth,” Gaddafi shouted.
The day’s first breakthrough came when hundreds of rebels fought their way into a major symbol of the Gaddafi regime — the base of the elite 32nd Brigade commanded by Gaddafi’s son, Khamis. Fighters said they met with little resistance.
Hundreds of rebels cheered wildly and danced as they took over the compound filled with eucalyptus trees, raising their tricolour from the front gate and tearing down a large billboard of Gadhafi.
Inside, they cracked open wooden crates labelled “Libyan Armed Forces” and loaded their trucks with huge quantities of munitions. One of the rebels carried off a tube of grenades, while another carted off two mortars.
“This is the wealth of the Libyan people that he was using against us,” said Ahmed Al Ajdal, 27, pointing to his haul. “Now we will use it against him and any other dictator who goes against the Libyan people.”
One group started up a tank, drove it out of the gate, crushing the median of the main highway and driving off toward Tripoli. Rebels celebrated the capture with deafening amounts of celebratory gunfire, filling the air with smoke.
Across the street, rebels raided a huge warehouse, making off with hundreds of crates of rockets, artillery shells and large-calibre ammunition. The warehouse had once been using to storage packaged foods, and in the back, cans of beans were still stacked toward the ceiling.
The prisoners had been held in the walled compound and when the rebels rushed in, they freed more than 300
of them. “We were sitting in our cells when all of a sudden we heard lots of gunfire and people yelling ‘Allahu Akbar.’ We didn’t know what was happening, and then we saw rebels running in and saying ‘We’re on your side.’ And they let us out,” said 23-year-old Majid Al Hodeiri from Zawiya. He said he was captured four months ago by Gaddafi’s forces and taken to base. He said he was beaten and tortured while under detention.
Many of the prisoners looked disoriented as they stopped at a gathering place for fighters several miles away from the base. Some had signs of severe beatings. Others were dressed in tattered T-shirts or barefoot. Rebels fighters and prisoners embraced.
From the military base, about 16 miles west of Tripoli, the convoy pushed on toward the capital. Mahmoud Al Ghwei, 20 and unarmed, said he had just came along with a friend for the ride. “It’s a great feeling. For all these years, we wanted freedom and Gaddafi kept it from us. Now we’re going to get rid of Gaddafi and get our freedom,” he said.
At nightfall, the fighters reached Janzour, a Tripoli suburb. Along the way, they were greeted by civilians lining the streets and waving rebel flags. One man grabbed a rebel flag that had been draped over the hood of a slow-moving car and kissed it, overcome with emotion. “We are not going back,” said Issam Wallani, another rebel. “God willing, this evening we will enter Tripoli.”
The uprising against Gaddafi broke out in mid-February, and anti-regime protests quickly spread across the vast desert nation with only 6 million people. A brutal regime crackdown quickly transformed the protests into an armed rebellion.
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