Rebels battle Libyan forces near Qadhafi compound

Updated - November 17, 2021 12:32 am IST

Published - August 24, 2011 07:34 pm IST - TRIPOLI

Smoke rises above a tent inside Muammar Qadhafi's compound Bab al-Aziziya in Tripoli, Libya, during fighting early Wednesday.

Smoke rises above a tent inside Muammar Qadhafi's compound Bab al-Aziziya in Tripoli, Libya, during fighting early Wednesday.

Pro-regime snipers cut off the road to Tripoli’s airport on Wednesday, fired at motorists near the capital’s port and launched repeated attacks on Muammar’s Qadhafi’s sprawling government compound, stormed by thousands of rebels a day earlier.

Still the opposition fighters claimed they now control most of Tripoli. Streets were largely deserted, scattered with debris, broken glass and other remnants of fighting, while rebels manned checkpoints every few hundred yards.

But there were intense clashes in the Abu Salim neighbourhood next to Col. Qadhafi’s Bab al-Aziziya compound. Col. Qadhafi’s loyalists fired shells and assault rifles at fighters who captured the compound on Tuesday. Abu Salim is home to a notorious prison and thought to be one of the last remaining regime strongholds within the capital.

Rebels stormed Col. Qadhafi’s compound on Tuesday but found no sign of the long-time leader. Still the conquest effectively signalled the end of the regime, even though the opposition may face pockets of stiff resistance for some time to come. And rebels know they cannot really proclaim victory until Col. Qadhafi is found.

On Wednesday morning, rebel fighters said they controlled most of Bab al-Aziziya but not all of it.

The rebel fighters are now using Bab al-Aziziya as staging area for their operations, loading huge trucks with ammunition and discussing where they need to deploy.

About 20 rebels were taking cover behind a wall of the compound and firing rifles and rocket-propelled grenades toward Col. Qadhafi’s snipers in tall buildings in nearby Abu Salim. They came under heavy incoming fire.

“There are also civilians in those buildings who support Qadhafi and they too are firing on us,” said Mohammed Amin, a rebel fighter.

He said the rebels have been unable to push into Abu Salim but have surrounded it. Mr. Amin added that one rebel was killed in the area when they took up positions in the morning and four were kidnapped by Col. Qadhafi’s troops while on patrol nearby.

The rebels claim they control the Tripoli airport but are still clashing with Col. Qadhafi forces around it. AP reporters said the road leading to the airport is closed because of heavy fire from regime snipers.

Khalil Mabrouk, a 37-year-old rebel fighter, said he had just come from the airport and the rebels have been inside since Monday. Most of the immediate area in the airport was cleared of Col. Qadhafi’s troops, he said. But south of it, Col. Qadhafi’s forces are firing rockets and shelling rebel positions inside the airport.

Foreign journalists are still being held at gunpoint at the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli, which is next to Abu Salim where the heaviest fighting was raging on Wednesday.

When an AP reporter entered the hotel and asked if he could take out several journalists, the guard, carrying a Kalashnikov, said they were not allowed to leave.

When a group of four other journalists, including New York Times reporter David Kirkpatrick, pulled up to the front gate in a car displaying a rebel flag, they were ordered out of the car at gunpoint.

The driver was placed on the floor of the parking lot by one guard while the others were menaced at gunpoint and later taken inside the hotel. Only two armed guards were in evidence.

A steady barrage of automatic weapons fire and heavy weapons could be heard in the surrounding area where Col. Qadhafi’s loyalists are still fighting, including in a large wooded park behind the hotel.

The journalists trapped in the Rixos appeared to be in good health but said that after four days of fighting in the area, nerves were stretched thin.

Elsewhere in the city, streets were deserted aside from rebel checkpoints, which were every 100m in some parts. Buildings were covered in pro-rebel graffiti that has sprung up just in the last few days.

Trash, already a problem in the waning months of Col. Qadhafi’s rule, covers the empty streets, piled in corners and all over the sidewalks. There are ripped up remnants of Col. Qadhafi’s green flags that once flew everywhere around the city.

Rebels at the checkpoints looked for Col. Qadhafi’ supporters, checking the trunks of cars to see if anyone was carrying weapons and not expressing support for the rebel movement. At one checkpoint a picture of Col. Qadhafi, once ubiquitous throughout the city, had been laid on the ground so that cars had to drive over it.

Two young rebel fighters searched through a heap of pill packages in a building they said had served as a pharmacy. A broken TV, its screen shattered, lay on the ground in the courtyard. Debris littered the ground. A dozen young fighters posed for pictures next to a gold-coloured statue of a clenched fist squeezing a plane — a memorial to the 1986 U.S. airstrikes on the compound in retaliation for a bombing at a German disco frequented by U.S. servicemen.

“The blood of our martyrs will not be spilled in vain,” the fighters chanted, pumping their fists.

Even as his 42-year-old regime was crumbling around him, Col. Qadhafi vowed not to surrender. In an audio message early on Wednesday, he called on residents of the Libyan capital and loyal tribesmen across his North African nation to free Tripoli from the “devils and traitors” who have overrun it.

Rebel leaders, meanwhile, made first moves to set up a new government in the capital. During Libya’s six-month civil war, opposition leaders had established their interim administration, the National Transitional Council, in the eastern city of Benghazi, which fell under rebel control shortly after the outbreak of widespread anti-regime protests in February.

“Members of the council are now moving one by one from Benghazi to Tripoli,” said Mansour Seyf al-Nasr, the Libyan opposition’s new ambassador to France.

A rebel leader, Mahmoud Jibril, was to meet later Wednesday with French President Nicholas Sarkozy, one of the earliest and staunchest supporters of the Libyan opposition, along with British Prime Minister David Cameron.

In London, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said it was clear Col. Qadhafi had lost control of the majority of the Libyan capital and that this served as a “fundamental and decisive rejection” of the tyrant’s regime.

Mr. Hague called on Col. Qadhafi to “stop issuing delusional statements.”

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