Libya: ‘Zero hour’ for Gaddafi as rebels advance on Tripoli

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by a Newsnet reporter

Amidst widespread rumours and counter-claims, reports early on Sunday morning suggested that the Libyan rebels had taken control of districts of the capital Libya.  An unconfirmed report broadcast on Libyan rebel controlled media claimed that Gaddafi and his sons have already fled the country.

Journalists based in Tripoli reported that intense gunfire was heard in the city after nightfall on Saturday, lasting several hours.  The noise of gunfire subsided in the early hours of Sunday morning, but bursts of machine gun fire and explosions could be heard throughout the city throughout the night, indicating fighting in several neighbourhoods.

Reports on the Zentan Channel on Face Book, which quoted the rebels’ Military Council, said that the rebels have taken control of the intelligence headquarters in the Saraj district in western suburbs of Tripoli.  The officers running the intelligence hub reportedly surrendered to the rebels.  If confirmed the fall of the country’s intelligence facilities to the rebels indicates that a significant breakthrough has been made in the very heart of Gaddafi’s central defences within within Tripoli itself.

Rebel sources also claim that the Tajoura area of the city has been liberated and a local council has been established.  The rebels also claim to have taken control of Triq Assikka in downtown Tripoli.  This is the location of the headquarters of the Gaddafi regime’s Council of Ministers.  Other reports say that the city’s airport is also in the hands of the rebels, whose green and black flag now flies from the airport building.

Gaddafi’s Information Minister Moussa Ibrahim dismissed mounting speculation that the regime was on the brink as a “media attack,” and said “The situation is under control”, adding that pro-regime volunteers had repelled insurgent attacks in several neighbourhoods.  However immediately after he spoke on Libyan television, further gunfire and explosions were widely heard throughout Tripoli.

Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, vice-chairman of the rebel National Transitional Council, based in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, told Reuters news agency: “The zero hour has started. The rebels in Tripoli have risen up.

“I would like to tell our families inside the capital that we are coming and call upon Gaddafi’s troops to abandon their weapons tonight and to join us to get rid of Gaddafi and his regime.”

Gaddafi’s influential former number two, Abdel Salam Jalloud, who defected to the rebel cause on Friday, appeared on television in Rome and called on the capital to rise against “the tyrant” saying, “Tonight you claim victory over fear.”   

Sources from the Rebel military council last night claimed that a cargo plane flew out of the airport on Saturday evening.  This led to widespread speculation that Gaddafi and his sons could have been on board.

Speaking by telephone to Libyan state television and radio early on Sunday morning, Gaddafi denied that he had left the city and urged his supporters to “march by the millions” and quash the uprising saying:  “We have to put an end to this masquerade. You must march by the millions to free the destroyed towns,” going on to describe the rebels as “traitors” and “rats”.  

US State Department spokeswoman Beth Gosselin said the US had seen press reports that Gaddafi and two sons had fled the country, “but we don’t have any confirmation”.