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Libyan rebels push towards Tripoli

On Sunday morning the fierce gunfights in Tripoli died down as dawn approached. Thomas Erdbrink and Leila Fadel report.

world Updated: Aug 22, 2011 01:13 IST
Thomas Erdbrink and Leila Fadel
Thomas Erdbrink and Leila Fadel
Hindustan Times

On Sunday morning the fierce gunfights in Tripoli died down as dawn approached.

The rebels claimed complete control of Souq al Jumaa in the eastern part of the capital and a military base, “Kilometre 27”, located on the outskirts of Tripoli. They also blocked the roads to stop Muammar Gaddafi’s forces.

Hundreds of rebels entered the military base, 16 miles west of Tripoli, on the road from Zawiyah. The base was considered the biggest obstacle on the road to Tripoli.

Airstrikes could be heard throughout the city, said a dissident who goes by the nickname Tony for fear of reprisal. He said he was heading toward Zawiyah to coordinate with rebels and help them storm the city. "I think [Gaddafi] lost most of the city," Tony said. "We have that they are planning an attack on us soon."

Gaddafi forces still controlled the seafront and the eastern gate into the city. Reporters staying at the Rixos hotel in Tripoli said the capital was quiet on Sunday morning and the hotel staff had not shown up for work. Rebels fighting forces loyal to Gaddafi took control of the key western city of Zawiyah on Saturday, and by early Sunday battles had erupted in several neighborhoods of the Libyan capital.

The rebel army’s advances set off a wave of speculation that Gaddafi’s rule was crumbling, but a government spokesman said the city remained under government control.

Dissidents, reached by phone in Tripoli, said fighting in the city’s eastern opposition strongholds of Tajura and Souk al-Juma began on Saturday night just after the last prayers of the day.

“We’re not going to stop tonight,” said one dissident. Heavy gunfire rang out around him as he hid in a water tank with a Kalashnikov rifle in one hand and his cell phone in the other. “Tonight we will finish this.”

The rebels were also trying to take control of a domestic airport just outside the capital. Their fighters had pushed many of Gaddafi’s forces into the centre of the city, and were being bombarded by rocket-propelled grenades, the dissidents said. Many people died on both sides, though it was not possible to confirm the reports.

Dissidents said they were ready for rebels from the east, west and south to storm the city, supply them with weapons and finish the fight for the capital.

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First Published: Aug 21, 2011 16:36 IST