Libyan rebels claimed to be in control of most of the Libyan capital yesterday after their lightning advance on Tripoli heralded the fall of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s nearly 42-year regime. Scattered battles erupted, while the mercurial leader’s whereabouts remained unknown.
The international community called on Qaddafi to step down and moved ahead with post-war planning as euphoric residents celebrated in the Green Square, the symbolic heart of the Qaddafi regime. Colleagues said he would not go easily. Two of his sons were captured late on Sunday.
The Western alliance promised to maintain its air campaign until all pro-Qaddafi forces surrender or return to barracks. NATO warplanes have hit at least 40 targets in and around Tripoli in the past two days — the highest number on a single geographic location since the bombing started more than five months ago, officials said.
The ability of rebels to move into Tripoli in an hours-long blitz showcased the evolution of the opposition fighters who first rose against the regime six months ago, swiftly capturing the eastern part of the vast North African nation, but failing to advance westward toward Tripoli even with the help of months of NATO airstrikes.
For months, the rebels — mainly civilian volunteers who took up arms and had little military training — were judged to be big on zeal, but short on organization and discipline. However, their stunning success in Tripoli showed a high level of planning, coordination and discipline.
In London, British Prime Minister David Cameron said frozen Libyan assets would soon be released to help the country’s rebels establish order, saying Qaddafi’s regime was “falling apart and in full retreat.”
Rebel spokesman Mohammed Abdel-Rahman, who was in Tripoli, warned of pockets of resistance and said as long as Qaddafi remains on the run the “danger is still there.”
Clashes broke out early yesterday at Qaddafi’s longtime command center known as Bab al-Aziziya when government tanks emerged from the complex and opened fire at rebels trying to get in, according to Abdel-Rahman and a neighbor. A reporter at the nearby Rixos Hotel where foreign journalists stay heard gunfire and loud explosions from the direction of the complex.
The rebels’ top diplomat in London, Mahmud Nacua, said opposition forces controlled 95 percent of Tripoli.
A rebel field commander said reinforcements were arriving in Tripoli by sea from the north, south and southeast.
Rebels erected checkpoints on the western approaches to the city, handing out candy to passengers and inquiring about their destination. Cars leaving the city were subjected to more rigorous checks.