Hardened fighters streamed into Tripoli yesterday as Libya’s rebels sought to deliver a knockout punch to Muammar Qaddafi’s remaining forces and to flush out the strongman, dead or alive.
Leading the army of reinforcements were seasoned combatants from the city of Misrata, whose fellow fighters spearheaded the weekend assault that saw the Libyan capital swiftly overrun and Qaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziya compound captured by Tuesday.
Rebel commanders said that while they control most of Tripoli, hot spots remain where sniper fire, rocket explosions and heavy weaponry make life dangerous.
The rebels are also hellbent on finding Qaddafi, so they can proclaim final victory.
Rebel leaders say they want to put Qaddafi on trial in Libya even though he also faces charges of crimes against humanity along with his son Seif al-Islam and spymaster Abdullah al-Senussi at the International Criminal Court.
The rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) on Wednesday offered a US$1.7 million reward for the capture of the elusive strongman, dead or alive.
NTC chief Mustafa Abdel Jalil also offered amnesty to “members of [Qaddafi’s] close circle who kill him or capture him.”
The 69-year-old Qaddafi has not been seen in public for weeks and despite losing control of the oil-rich North African country he ruled with an iron fist for 42 years is still managing to broadcast messages urging Libyans to drive out the “rats” — as he disparagingly calls the rebels.
Meanwhile, diplomatic efforts were launched at the UN and in Qatar by backers of the insurgents to secure the unlocking of billions of dollars of Libyan assets for the rebels.
Washington for its part said Libya’s stockpile of weapons of mass destruction had been secured and that it was confident the NTC could set up governing structures after overrunning Tripoli.
A group of mostly foreign journalists who had been confined to Tripoli’s Rixos Hotel by pro-Qaddafi hardliners were freed, but other loyalists kidnapped four Italian journalists near the capital, and two French journalists were wounded by stray gunfire at the compound but were recovering.
A rebel military spokesman told al-Jazeera television that “Libyan territory is 90 to 95 percent under the control of the rebellion.”
In Tripoli’s Souk al-Jumaa, the arrival of at least 60 Misrata rebels on Wednesday sparked joy among residents.
They were joined by rebels from as far west as the Nafusa mountains and as far east as Benghazi, as field commanders vowed to bring the capital under full rebel control.
Fighting is concentrated along the perimeters of Bab al-Aziziya and the neighboring Abu Slim district, where Qaddafi reportedly released, armed and paid former prisoners to fight for his regime.
On Wednesday, thick smoke hung over the Bab al-Aziziya complex, where the two sides fought with light arms, heavy machine guns, rocket propelled grenades and mortars.
Other pro-Qaddafi troops fired heavy Grad rockets in a bid to regain control of Tripoli’s airport from a small group of rebels holding on.
But rebels said Qaddafi forces were pounding insurgents holding the center of Zuwarah, west of Tripoli, adding that they needed reinforcements to help them lift the siege.
Rebels advancing towards Qaddafi’s birthplace of Sirte were also blocked on Wednesday in the town of Bin Jawad as loyalists kept up stiff resistance.