Rebels take Tripoli as Gaddafi’s defences crumble

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by a Newsnet reporter

The Libyan civil war entered its final stages last night as Libyan rebels entered the capital of Tripoli, capturing many senior members of the Gaddafi regime including Gaddafi’s sons Saif al-Islam and Al-Saadi, and his eldest son Muhammad.  Euphoric Libyan rebels raced into the city on Sunday and rapidly reached the central disctricts, encountering little resistance as Muammar Gaddafi’s defenses collapsed and his regime appeared to be crumbling fast.

Large districts of Tripoli are now under the control of forces loyal to the Libyan National Transitional Council, recently recognised by the UK and France as the legitimate government of the oil-rich nation.  Small pockets of Gaddafi forces within the city were still resisting early on Monday morning but the opposition forces gradually extended their control as the night progressed.

Although sporadic and localised gunfire could be heard in the city throughout the night, late last night residents of Tripoli were on the streets celebrating the fall of the regime, tearing down images of Gaddafi and replacing the regime’s green flag with the rebel flag, the flag of Libya prior to Gaddafi’s coup d’etat in 1969.

By early on Monday morning, the opposition forces had taken Green Square, the symbolic heart of Gaddafi’s regime and the site of his supporters’ mass rallies.  Last night the National Transitional Council announced that the square would revert to its pre-1969 name and would now be called Martyrs’ Square.

Thousands of rebel forces streamed into the city from the west on Sunday.  Earlier this week the rebels took control of the town of Zawiya, some 50 miles west of the capital.  On Sunday a large number of rebel troops set out from the town towards Tripoli.

On Sunday afternoon the rebels took the military base at Gate 27 on the western outskirts of Tripoli.  The base was established by Gaddafi as part of an “impregnable” defence ring around the city and was the headquarters of the much feared Khamis Brigade.  The brigade was commanded by Gaddafi’s seventh and youngest son Kamis Gaddafi and was considered by US intelligence as the best equipped and best trained force in the Libyan army. Persistent but unconfirmed reports suggest that Kamis was killed in the fighting over the past few days.

The capture of the base without significant opposition was the first sign that the regime’s defences were seriously crumbling. The rebels captured significant armaments and ammunition as well as intelligence documents.

Rebels also launched a sea-based invasion, shipping men and ammunition into the Libyan capital from rebel controlled districts to the east.

The rapidly changing events on the ground took place far more quickly than most observers had expected.  There was little opposition to the rebel advance despite Gaddafi’s prediction broadcast on state media the previous day that “millions” would come onto the streets and take up arms in his defence.

The arrest of Gaddadi’s son Saif signified to many Libyans that the regime had collapsed.  According to reports on the Arabic news channel Al Jazeera, Saif Gaddafi was accompanied by only a small number of supporters who put up little resistance to the opposition fighters.  He was captured after a brief gun battle and has now been placed under arrest.  During the early part of the uprising, Saif was appointed as military commander of the Libyan Army.

Said al-Islam Gaddafi has been charged with crimes against humanity by the UN’s International Criminal Court in the Hague which has issued a warrant for his arrest.  The ICC has requested that the Libyan authorities extradite him in order to prosecute him for war crimes.  A spokesman for the ICC in the Netherlands said last night: “It’s time for justice not revenge.”

Members of opposition forces went to the home of Muhammad Gaddafi in the Al-Andalus district of the city and surrounded the property.  After a brief exchange of gunfire in which there were no reported injuries, Muhammad agreed to surrender.

Reports also said that Al-Saadi Gaddafi, Gaddafi’s third son had also been arrested. Al-Saadi is perhaps best known in the West for his short lived career as a professional footballer.  He played one match for the Italian team Perugia before being dismissed for failing a drug test.  He commanded a brigade of special forces during the recent uprising.

Abdullah al-Sanussi, the chief of Gaddafi’s intelligence services, was also arrested and his son was killed in clashes.  It has now come to light that up to 1000 members of opposition forces went into the city and targeted senior members of the regime.  The fact they were able to do so with such ease points to the rebels having supporters and sympathisers at the very highest levels within the Gaddafi regime.

It was also confirmed last night that Gaddafi’s Presidential Guard had surrendered.  Washid Burqan, a member of the Libyan National Transitional Council, stated that the leader of the Presidential Guard announced the brigade’s surrender and ordered his men to lay down their arms without any heavy fighting or loss of life.  The Presidential Guard was the elite unit amongst Gaddafi’s forces, supposedly manned by die-hard Gaddafi loyalists.  Their defection to the opposition means that Gaddafi now has few cards to play.  

There is no information on the whereabouts of Muammar Gaddafi himself.  It is thought that he is no longer in the city.  Unconfirmed reports suggest that he may be in deep in the Saharan Desert in the south of the country near the border with Niger or Algeria.

In a ranting telephone message to Libyan state television late last night, Gaddafi called upon the tribes of Libya to march on the capital to “purify” it and to enter the city to “kick out the traitors”.  He went on to claim: “All the tribes are now marching towards Tripoli because they have heeded the call.  There is no place for the agents of imperialism in Libya … the agents of imperialism are but a few.”  He repeated the calls he made in previous days for the people of Libya to take arms and defend the regime.  But it appeared that few were prepared to heed his call.

Celebrations broke out last night in rebel controlled areas as news spread of the capture of Gaddafi’s sons and the surrender of the Presidential Guard.