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Libyan Rebels 'Breach' Qaddafi Compound

23.08.2011 12:53

Hundreds of Libyan rebels have reportedly entered Muammar Qaddafi's main military compound in Tripoli.

There was no immediate word on Qaddafi's whereabouts after the insurgents breached the defenses as part of a massive assault that began on the morning of August 23.

Earlier, correspondents in Tripoli reported heavy fighting near the compound of Muammar Qaddafi as supporters and opponents of the Libyan ruler battle for control of the capital. Correspondents say opposition fighters were streaming into Tripoli to join the fight.

NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu described the battle for Tripoli as "fluid," saying it was complex urban warfare. She said the strength of Qaddafi's forces has been severely degraded by desertions and defections.

But Libyan army troops could be seen firing artillery and other heavy weapons at nearby opposition fighters who have besieged the military barracks and bunkers within Qaddafi's Bab al-Aziziya compound. Rocket fire also was reported.

Smoke could be seen rising from several buildings used as firing positions by rebel fighters trying to target tanks and one massive fortified bunker within the compound where some speculated Qaddafi may be hiding. But there was no confirmation on Qaddafi's whereabouts as the battle for control of Tripoli stretched into a second day on August 23.

Correspondents report seeing NATO warplanes flying over Qaddafi's compound. But they were unable to confirm whether NATO planes were dropping bombs on Libyan army tanks and artillery there.

'Qaddafi Regime Has Passed The Tipping Point'

A NATO spokesman, Col. Roland Lavoie, would not comment on whether alliance aircraft were bombing targets at Qaddafi's compound, but he stressed that air strikes would be launched "if we believe there is an immediate threat against the civilian population."

"Tripoli is still the site of numerous clashes between pro and anti-Qaddafi forces and the tension is far from being over," he said. "The situation in Tripoli is, indeed, very, very dynamic and complex even today [August 23], and we are closely monitoring these developments hour by hour."

Lavoie emphasized that NATO is not providing close air support for opposition combatants who are fighting within Tripoli. Nevertheless, he maintained that Qaddafi's time in power appears to be running out.

"Let's be clear here: despite the noise they could be making in Tripoli, the Qaddafi regime has passed the tipping point and is going down," he said. "So for us, it is more a matter of when."

Lavoie said there had also been fighting on August 23 along a road that links Tripoli with the city of Sirte -- Qaddafi's birthplace and a strong tribal support base for the embattled ruler. Correspondents also report seeing some Qaddafi loyalists trying to retreat from Tripoli to Sirte.

NATO officials said Qaddafi's troops were continuing to fight from several other strongholds in western Libya. He also said they still controlled a supply route on August 23 between Tripoli and a major air base at Sabha in south central Libya.

'Confront The Rats'

In a sign of the confusion in the city, Saif al-Islam, a son of Muammar Qaddafi who was reported to have been captured by rebels, has resurfaced free in Tripoli.

Saif al-Islam early on August 23 issued a rallying cry to Qaddafi loyalists in Tripoli (see video below). Referring to opposition fighters as "rats," he called upon regime loyalists to battle against rebels who had claimed on August 22 that they control 95 percent of the Libyan capital.

"As we agreed, we arm ourselves today and confront the rats today, God willing!" he said.

Making his appearance at a hotel in Tripoli where many foreign journalists are staying, the onetime heir apparent to rule in Libya said his father was safe and that the Libyan capital had not fallen to rebel fighters.

Saif al-Islam blamed the erroneous reports about his capture on NATO and Western governments.

"Firstly, I want to deny all the rumors," he said. "NATO and the West have modern technology and they blocked and jammed communications. They sent messages to the Libyan people through the Libyana network, I think. They stopped the [state TV] broadcasts. They've created a media and electronic war to spread chaos and fear in Libya."

Saif al-Islam also said rebel fighters suffered heavy casualties on August 22 when they tried to storm Qaddafi's compound, which reportedly was being protected by Libyan troops with tanks and other armored vehicles.

Saif al-Islam, wanted along with his father by the International Criminal Court, made his appearance after the court's prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo announced that rebel forces had confirmed Saif al-Islam's arrest.

Crimes Against Humanity

An ICC spokesman said on August 22 that the court was seeking Saif al-Islam's transfer to The Hague to face charges of crimes against humanity. He is accused together with his father of orchestrating a plan to put down the Libyan revolt by "any means necessary" since it began in mid-February.

The charges include the murder of hundreds of antigovernment protesters and the injuring of hundreds of others by firing at crowds with live ammunition. The charges also include arresting and torturing many other political opponents of Qaddafi's regime.

Saif al-Islam's appearance early today, together with the withdrawal of opposition fighters from parts of Tripoli overnight, signaled that the fight for the Libyan capital is not yet over and that there could be further bloodshed ahead.

Qaddafi's whereabouts remained unknown as Tripoli was plunged into darkness after electricity supplies were turned off everywhere but in his compound and as the sound of gunfire crackled across the city.

The Libyan rebels' ambassador to Washington told CNN that Qaddafi appeared to have escaped. But Ali Suleiman Aujali said he did not think Qaddafi's troops can hold onto Tripoli for much longer.

"Qaddafi is unpredictable. He will do anything now," Aujali said. "Why was he killing the Libyan people until today? He was going to win this battle? No. This is revenge. He just wants to kill. He wants to teach the Libyan people a lesson. He will do anything against his own people. But I believe he doesn't have the means and the space and the ways to take this action."

'No More Blood'

Yusself Aradat, a rebel fighter from the Tripoli brigade, said Qaddafi's days as a ruler were clearly numbered.

"Bab al-Aziziya -- we know that [Qaddafi] still has powers there and tanks. This is the latest information," Aradat said. "And now we are doing our plan and it's a good plan to go and take Bab al-Aziziya and we want to go with less bloodshed. No more blood. There has been enough blood going in this country. We want to go and take Bab al-Aziziya and put our flag and it will be peaceful. No more blood."

Mustafa Abdel Jalil, head of the opposition's Benghazi-based National Transitional Council, declared on August 22 that "the Qaddafi era is over." Jalil said he hoped Qaddafi would be "captured alive so that he will be given a fair trial."

compiled from agency reports

Source: http://www.rferl.org/content/libya_qaddafi_saif_al-islam_tripoli_fighting/24305238.html

Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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