The 42-year rule of Moammar Gaddafi appeared on the verge of collapse early Monday, with rebel supporters making it to the same Tripoli square where regime loyalists had congregated for months.
But in a possible indication that the fight is not over, celebrations in Tripoli’s Green Square gave way to tension Monday morning after rebels said that they’d heard Gaddafi army forces were heading their way.However there was no confirmation of the movement of government forces.
A large fire, meanwhile, could be seen rising over the capital around 4 a.m. Monday from about 10 miles (16 kilometers outside the city).
The uncertainty came hours after news broke that two of Moammar Gaddafi’s sons — Saif al-Islam and Saadi — had been arrested by rebel forces. Jumma Ibrahim, a rebel spokesman based in Libya’s western mountain region, said both were captured in Tripoli.
Key part of Tripoli falls to rebels
International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said the court plans Monday to contact authorities associated with those holding Saif al-Islam to try to arrange for his transfer to the Netherlands for an eventual trial for “crimes against humanity.” The court, based in The Hague, earlier this summer issued an arrest warrant for Saif Gaddafi as well as his father and uncle Abdullah al-Sanussi.
Libyan minders flee reporter hotel
Tipping point in Tripoli Saadi Gadhafi, a businessman and onetime professional soccer player, helped set up an interview with a woman who claimed she’d been raped by government troops. He latersaid that those behind the attack should be prosecuted.
There was no immediate reaction from Libyan government officials to the reports. Court wants Gadhafi’s son.
In an audio address broadcast just before midnight Sunday — his second of the day — Moammar Gaddafi claimed “very small groups of people who are collaborators with the imperialists” were fighting inside the capital. Should the rebels prevail, Gaddafi said NATO would not protect them and predicted massive bloodshed. To prevent such bloodshed, he said, Libyans, including women, should go out and fight.
“Get out and lead, lead, lead the people to paradise,” he said.
Just after midnight Sunday, scores of raucous rebel supporters packed Green Square — the same place where Gadhafi loyalists have congregated regularly — celebrating, waving the rebel flag and even flashing the “victory” sign.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Sunday that “the Gadhafi regime is clearly crumbling,” and urged the leader to acknowledge defeat.
“The rebel fighters are in control of most of the neighborhoods in Tripoli,” said the rebel spokesman, Ibrahim.
A main supply route into western Tripoli — which, earlier Sunday, had been the scene of intense fighting — was clear early Monday, occupied only by rebels heading toward the capital.
there were reports thats around 3 a.m. that the route heading to Green Square was “eerily quiet,” with cars passing by checkpoints run by those loyal to the opposition. Between 100 and 150 rebel fighters by then had gathered in the square, only to scatter an hour later amid concerns about possible snipers and an upcoming battle there, in the heart of the city.
The advance included members of the “Tripoli Brigade,” a group of rebel troops who’d once lived in the capital who might help navigate the city. But they weren’t all professional soldiers, such as one IT worker who hadn’t held a gun before joining the movement a few months ago.
They entered a city that, after being largely free of large-scale fighting since the conflict began six months ago, became the site of intense drama and significant violence over the weekend.
Libyan government spokesman Musa Ibrahim told reporters just after 11 p.m. Sunday that some 1,300 people had been killed and about 5,000 wounded in fighting in the previous 12 hours.
“(The city) is being turned into a hellfire,” he said.
The spokesman denied a report from Arab-language news network Al-Arabiya that Gaddafi’s guard had surrendered, calling it “false information.”
Col. Roland Lavoie, a NATO spokesman based at the Joint Forces Command in Naples, Italy, described the situation Sunday as “very dynamic and very tense” after a spate of mostly small-scale skirmishes in downtown Tripoli and near the sea. While there was no sense of massive encounters, there were large movements of troops by both sides outside the city.
In another sign of possible trouble, the signal for state-run television — which has long been a forum for pro-Gaddafi views — repeatedly froze, with the station later claiming there had been “interference” due to a “hostile media campaign.” The network reverted to taped broadcasts of previous pro-Gaddafi gatherings.
One fierce gun battle broke out Sunday evening near the hotel where many international reporters were stationed in Tripoli. Many government officials packed their suitcases and left the hotel earlier in the day.
The battle for Tripoli
A woman in Tripoli said late Sunday that she and others went outside, “screaming” and calling for Gaddafi’s ouster — and had plenty of company.
“We realized that no one wants him, no one wants this dictator,” said the resident, whom cant be named for safety reasons.
Musa Ibrahim said on Sunday that “more than 65,000 professional men” are fighting in Tripoli, with thousands more flooding in to help defend the regime, and added they “can hold for much longer.” He predicted a “humanitarian disaster” unless an immediate ceasefire is called.
“It’s not about who will win,” he said. “The world needs to hear this message, that a massacre will be committed in Tripoli if one side wins now.”
Some areas of eastern Tripoli, including the suburb of Tajoura, were out of government control Sunday, according to a Libyan government official who asked not to be named. Rebels set car tires afire along barricades there, the official said.
Meanwhile, Zawiya — a key coastal city about 30 miles west of the capital — appeared under rebel control, with celebratory gunfire and fireworks as some yelled out, “Libya is free!”
Aref Ali Nayed, an ambassador in the United Arab Emirates for the Libyan rebels’ Transitional National Council, said that opposition forces were calling Sunday “Day 1.”
“The reason we declare it ‘Day 1’ is because we feel Gaddafi is already finished. He is already finished, most importantly, in our hearts,” he said. “We no longer fear him.”
The fighters are continuing to get significant weapons and air support from NATO to maintain pressure on Gadafi’s forces, Lavoie said.
Ibrahim, the government spokesman, blamed NATO for the conflict and appealed for a cease-fire.
Libyan anchor waves gun on the air
“Every drop of Libyan blood shed by these rebels is the responsibility of the Western world, especially NATO’s countries,” he said. “We hold (U.S. President Barack) Obama, (British Prime Minister David) Cameron and (French President Nicolas) Sarkozy morally responsible for every single unnecessary death that takes place in this country.”
Several U.S. officials — including President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — were getting updates on the situation, officials said.
“Tonight, the momentum against the Gaddafi regime has reached a tipping point,” Obama said in a statement, claiming “Tripoli is slipping from the grasp of a tyrant. … The surest way for the bloodshed to end is simple: Moammar Gaddafi and his regime need to recognize that their rule has come to an end.”
In the rebel hub of Benghazi, meanwhile, a rebel supporter Sammi Addahoumi showed video of large, boisterous crowds in the city’s Freedom Square reacting as reports of the developments played on a large screen.
“The spirits are quite high,” said Addahoumi, a 28-year-old deli manager from South Carolina who said his father fled Benghazi decades ago. “Everyone is expecting Tripoli to fall.”
In the first of his speeches on state television Sunday, though, Gadhafi was still insisting the rebels — whom he described as “infidels,” “traitors” and “gangsters” — would fail and vowed not to back down.
“This is the hour of victory,” he said. “This hour is the hour of defiance.”