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Tuesday, 23 August, 2011, 3:13 ( 1:13 GMT )
Summary of the American and International Press on the Libyan Revolution - Morgan Strong
22/08/2011 10:48:00
Surveillance and Coordination With NATO Aided Rebels

(N. Y. Times) - As rebel forces in Libya converged on Tripoli on Sunday, American and NATO officials cited an intensification of American aerial surveillance in and around the capital city as a major factor in helping to tilt the balance after months of steady erosion of Col. Muammar Al Qathafi’s military.

The officials also said that coordination between NATO and the rebels, and among the loosely organised rebel groups themselves, had become more sophisticated and lethal in recent weeks, even though NATO’s mandate has been merely to protect civilians, not to take sides in the conflict.

NATO’s targeting grew increasingly precise, one senior NATO diplomat said, as the United States established around-the-clock surveillance over the dwindling areas that Libyan military forces still controlled, using armed Predator drones to detect, track and occasionally fire at those forces.

At the same time, Britain, France and other nations deployed special forces on the ground inside Libya to help train and arm the rebels, the diplomat and another official said.

“We always knew there would be a point where the effectiveness of the government forces would decline to the point where they could not effectively command and control their forces,” said the diplomat, who was granted anonymity to discuss confidential details of the battle inside Tripoli.

“At the same time,” the diplomat said, “the learning curve for the rebels, with training and equipping, was increasing. What we’ve seen in the past two or three weeks is these two curves have crossed.”

Through Saturday, NATO and its allies had flown 7,459 strike missions, or sorties, attacking thousands of targets, from individual rocket launchers to major military headquarters.

The cumulative effect not only destroyed Libya’s military infrastructure but also greatly diminished the ability of Colonel Al Qathafi’s commanders to control forces, leaving even committed fighting units unable to move, resupply or coordinate operations.

On Saturday, the last day NATO reported its strikes, the alliance flew only 39 sorties against 29 targets, 22 of them in Tripoli. In the weeks after the initial bombardments in March, by contrast, the allies routinely flew 60 or more sorties a day.

“NATO got smarter,” said Frederic Wehrey, a senior policy analyst with the RAND Corporation who follows Libya closely. “The strikes were better controlled. There was better coordination in avoiding collateral damage.”

The rebels, while ill-trained and poorly organized even now, made the most of NATO’s direct and indirect support, becoming more effective in selecting targets and transmitting their location, using technology provided by individual NATO allies, to NATO’s targeting team in Italy.

“The rebels certainly have our phone number,” the diplomat said. “We have a much better picture of what’s happening on the ground.”

Rebel leaders in the west credited NATO with thwarting an attempt on Sunday by Al Qathafi loyalists to reclaim Zawiyah with a flank assault on the city.

Administration officials greeted the developments with guarded elation that the overthrow of a reviled dictator would vindicate the demands for democracy that have swept the Arab world.

A State Department’s spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, said that President Obama, who was vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard, and other senior American officials were following events closely.

Privately, many officials cautioned that it could still be several days or weeks before Libya’s military collapses or Colonel Al Qathafi and his inner circle abandon the fight.

As Saddam Hussein and his sons did in Iraq after the American invasion in 2003, the Libyan leader could hold on and lead an insurgency from hiding even after the capital fell, the officials said.

“Trying to predict what this guy is going to do is very, very difficult,” a senior American military officer said.

A senior administration official said the United States had evidence that other members of Colonel Al Qathafi’s inner circle were negotiating their own exits, but there was no reliable information on the whereabouts or state of mind of Colonel Al Qathafi.

Audio recordings released by Colonel Al Qathafi on Sunday night, which expressed defiance, were of limited use in discerning his circumstances.

Even if Colonel Al Qathafi were to be deposed, there is no clear plan for political succession or maintaining security in the country. “The leaders I’ve talked to do not have a clear understanding how this will all play out,” said the senior officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to maintain diplomatic relationships.

The United States is already laying plans for a post-Al Qathafi Libya. Jeffrey D. Feltman, an assistant secretary of state, was in Benghazi over the weekend for meetings with the rebels’ political leadership about overseeing a stable, democratic transition.

A senior administration official said that the United States wanted to reinforce the message of rebel leaders that they seek an inclusive transition that would bring together all the segments of Libyan society.

“Even as we welcome the fact that Al Qathafi’s days are numbered and we want to see him go as quickly as possible, we also want to send a message that the goal should be the protection of civilians,” the official said.

The administration was making arrangements to bring increased medical supplies and other humanitarian aid into Libya.

With widespread gunfire in the streets of Tripoli, Human Rights Watch cautioned NATO to take measures to guard against the kind of bloody acts of vengeance, looting and other violence that followed the fall of Saddam Hussein’s government.

“Everyone should be ready for the prospect of a very quick, chaotic transition,” said Tom Malinowski, the director of the Washington office of Human Rights Watch.

Obama Says Al Qathafi Rule Is 'Showing Signs of Collapsing'

The White House issued a statement on Sunday night saying that "Tripoli is slipping from the grasp of a tyrant" and that Al Qathafi's government is "showing signs of collapsing." President Obama said that the United States had recognised the Transitional National Council as Libya's legitimate governing authority.

The surest way for the bloodshed to end is simple: Muammar Al Qathafi and his regime need to recognise that their rule has come to an end. Qadhafi needs to acknowledge the reality that he no longer controls Libya. He needs to relinquish power once and for all.

McCain and Graham Say U.S. Should Have Done More

Senator John McCain of Arizona and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, both Republicans, released a statement Sunday congratulating the Libyan people on the "end" of the Al Qathafi regime.

The statement also criticised the United States for not doing more to help.

“This achievement was made possible first and foremost by the struggle and sacrifice of countless Libyans, whose courage and perseverance we applaud. We also commend our British, French, and other allies, as well as our Arab partners, especially Qatar and the UAE, for their leadership in this conflict.

Americans can be proud of the role our country has played in helping to defeat Al Qathafi, but we regret that this success was so long in coming due to the failure of the United States to employ the full weight of our airpower.”

Al Jazeera Interviews Al Qathafi's Eldest Son

Wasil Ali, a deputy editor of The Sudan Tribune, reports on Twitter Col. Muammar Al Qathafi's eldest son, Mohammed, explained in a live interview on Al Jazeera that he is in his home and surrendered in return for a promise that he would be kept safe.

Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, a former Times colleague who is now an Al Jazeera journalist, notes on his Twitter feed that as Mohammed Al Qathafi spoke, "loud gunfire" could be heard in the background.

Rawya Rageh, an Al Jazeera reporter in Cairo, added on her Twitter feed: "Mohammed Al Qathafi almost sounded like he's in tears before call ended as he said gunshots 'are inside my house.'"

Rebels Claim to Hold Three Al Qathafi Sons

Bashir Sewehli, a Libyan activist, told Al Jazeera English that the rebel Transitional National Council now claim to have captured three of Col. Muammar el-Al Qathafi's sons: Seif al-Islam, Saadi and Muhammad.

Another Defiant Audio Message From Al Qathafi

Libyan state television broadcast another defiant audio message from Col. Muammar Al Qathafi on Sunday. From an undisclosed location, the Libyan leader promised to stay in Tripoli "until the end."

According to the BBC News live blog, the Libyan leader said: "I am with you in this battle; I am in your midst now. I am with you with my rifle. We will not surrender. We won't ever abandon Tripoli to the colonialists and traitors. We will sacrifice Tripoli with our blood and our soul. We would sacrifice Libya with our blood and soul."

The new statement comes just hours after Colonel Al Qathafi claimed in a message broadcast late on Saturday night that his forces has succeeded in defeating the opposition forces inside the capital he called "rats."

Al Qathafi regime 'crumbling': NATO

(Daily Star, Beirut) - Muammar Al Qathafi's 42-year rule in Libya is "crumbling," the NATO military alliance said late Sunday as rebels launched a fierce street battle for Tripoli in a final push for victory.

"What we're seeing tonight is the regime crumbling," chief NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu told AFP. "The sooner Al Qathafi realises there is no way he can win, the better for everyone."

"What you are seeing tonight is the cumulative effect, over time, of the eroded capabilities of the regime," Lungescu said, citing more than 4,000 military targets damaged or destroyed in the last four months.

"Clearly we're into the last stage of the regime -- the writing is on the wall," she added.

"We're seeing people packing their bags -- three top people defecting in the last couple of days, and Al Qathafi-controlled territory shrinking before our eyes."

After rebels claimed "coordinated" action during the capture of a key forest staging post on the road to Tripoli, Lungescu insisted NATO was not actively providing "cover fire" for the rebels -- but forces were being scrambled to leap to their defence during resistance.

"We are not taking part in any formal coordination on the ground," she maintained. "That's not the mandate -- we're not there to provide immediate assistance, or cover, if you like, yes.

"Obviously, though, we do track what's happening on the ground - and if we see tanks or other equipment going out to attack, we fire," she said of the rebels' aerial umbrella.

Little Resistance as Rebels Enter Tripoli

(N. Y. Times) - Rebels surged into the Libyan capital Sunday night, meeting only sporadic resistance from troops loyal to Col. Muammar Al Qathafi and setting off raucous street celebrations by residents hailing the end of his 42 years in power.

The rebel leadership announced that insurgents had captured two of Colonel Al Qathafi’s sons, including Seif al-Islam, his heir apparent, as rebel fighters entered the city’s central Green Square, where joyous Libyans tore down posters of Colonel Al Qathafi and stomped on them.

The leadership also announced that the elite presidential guard protecting the Libyan leader had surrendered and that they controlled many parts of the city, not including Colonel Al Qathafi’s leadership compound.

The National Transitional Council, the rebel governing body, issued a mass text message saying, “We congratulate the Libyan people for the fall of Muammar Al Qathafi and call on the Libyan people to go into the street to protect the public property. Long live free Libya.”

Officials loyal to Al Qathafi insisted that the fight was not over, and there were clashes between rebels and government troops early Monday morning. But NATO and American officials said that the Al Qathafi’s government’s control of Tripoli, which had been its final stronghold, was now in doubt.

“Clearly, the offensive for Tripoli is underway,” the State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement. The statement said “Al Qathafi’s days are numbered,” and urged the rebel leadership to prepare for a transfer of power and “maintain broad outreach across all segments of Libyan society and to plan for a post-Al Qathafi Libya.”

After six months of inconclusive fighting, the assault on the capital unfolded at a breakneck pace, with insurgents capturing a military base of the vaunted Khamis Brigade, where they had expected to meet fierce resistance, then speeding toward Tripoli and through several neighbourhoods of the capital effectively unopposed.

A separate group of rebels waged a fierce battle near the Rixos Hotel, a bastion of Al Qathafi support near the city centre. A team of rebels there captured Colonel Al Qathafi’s son and one-time heir apparent, Seif al-Islam. Rebels also claimed to have accepted the surrender of a second Al Qathafi son, Mohammed.

Rebel spokesmen said that their fighters had surrounded the Bab al Azziziyah compound where they believed Colonel Al Qathafi may still be holding out, but that they were reluctant to begin an all-out assault.

Colonel Al Qathafi issued a series of defiant audio statements during the night, calling on people to "save Tripoli" from a rebel offensive. He said Libyans were becoming “slaves of the imperialists” and that “all the tribes are now marching on Tripoli.”

Mahmoud Hamza, a senior official of the Al Qathafi Foreign Ministry, acknowledged in a phone call at 1 a.m. local time on Monday that “it is getting near the end now.” But he said that the Al Qathafi forces had not given up.

“Tripoli now is very dangerous. There is a lot of fighting but there is not yet an assault on Bab al Azziziyah” he said. “For me this is the most fearful thing. I hope it does not come to that.”

Al Arabiya television aired images of Libyans celebrating in central Tripoli and ripping down Al Qathafi posters. Huge crowds gathered in Benghazi, the capital of the rebel-controlled eastern part of the country, as expectations grew that Colonel Al Qathafi’s hold on power was crumbling.

Earlier Sunday, protesters took to the streets and cells of rebels inside Tripoli clashed with Al Qathafi loyalists, opposition leaders and refugees from the city said. Fighting had been heavy in the morning, but by midnight Colonel Al Qathafi’s forces had withdrawn from many districts without a major battle.

A rebel spokesman said insurgents had opened another line of attack on Tripoli by sending boats from the port city of Misurata to link up with fighters in the capital. It was not clear how many fighters were involved in that operation.

Moussa Ibrahim, the government’s spokesman, issued press statements through the night, saying more than 1,300 people had died in fighting in the city but that government troops remained in control. Those claims could not be confirmed.

But the turmoil inside Tripoli and the crumbling of defenses on its outskirts suggested a decisive shift in the revolt, the most violent of the Arab Spring uprisings.

NATO troops continued close air support of the rebels all day, with multiple strikes by alliance aircraft helping clear the road to Tripoli from Zawiyah. Rebel leaders in the west credited NATO with thwarting an attempt on Sunday by Al Qathafi loyalists to reclaim Zawiyah with a flank assault on the city.

Seif al-Islam Al Qathafi has been a central character in the drama of the Libyan revolt. Before the uprising began he was known as Libya’s leading advocate of reform in both economic and political life.

He cultivated an Anglophile persona, and often appeared to be waging a tug-of-war against his father’s older and more conservative allies. He was increasingly seen as the most powerful figure behind the scenes of the Libyan government as well as his father’s likely successor.

When the revolt broke out it was Seif al-Islam who delivered the government’s first public response, vowing to wipe out what he called “the rats” and warning of a civil war.

In his last public interview, he appeared a changed man. Sitting in a spare hotel conference room, he wore a newly grown beard and fingered prayer beads. After months of denouncing the rebels as dangerous Islamic radicals, he insisted that he was brokering a new alliance with the Islamist faction among the rebels to drive out the liberals.

While rebels expressed hope that Colonel Al Qathafi’s forces had lost their will to fight, support for the government could remain strong inside some areas of Tripoli. Analysts said the crucial role played by NATO in aiding the rebel advance in the relatively unpopulated areas outside the capital could prove far less effective in an urban setting, where concerns about civilian casualties could hamper the alliance’s ability to focus on government troops.

A senior American military officer who has been following the developments closely and who has been in contact with African and Arab military leaders in recent days, expressed caution on Sunday about the prospects for Libya even if the Al Qathafi regime should fall.

Even if Colonel Al Qathafi is deposed in some way, the senior officer said, there was still no clear plan for a political succession or for maintaining security in the country.

“The leaders I’ve talked to do not have a clear understanding how this will all play out,” said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly. “Trying to predict what this guy is going to do is very, very difficult,” the officer said, referring to Colonel Al Qathafi.

Few would have predicted that the rebels would meet so little resistance from the 32nd Brigade, a unit that NATO had considered one of the most elite in Libya and commanded by Khamis Al Qathafi, one of the leader’s sons.

The so-called Khamis Brigade was one of the crucial units enforcing the defence lines around the capital, extending about 17 miles outside Tripoli to the west and about 20 miles to the south.

Rebels said those points had been breached by Sunday afternoon despite the expectation that Colonel Al Qathafi would use heavily armoured units and artillery to defend them. It was unclear whether the government troops had staged a tactical retreat or been dislodged by NATO strikes.

After a brief gun battle, rebels took over one of the brigade’s bases along the road to Tripoli. Inside the base, rebels raised their flag and cheered wildly. They began carting away stores of weapons, including rocket-propelled grenades and mortars.

While the bodies of several dead loyalist soldiers were left on the ground in the base, it appeared the troops there had retreated rather than being forced out in battle. At least one structure suffered significant damage from NATO bombs.

American officials say they are preparing contingency plans if and when Al Qathafi’s regime falls to help prevent the vast Libyan government stockpiles of weapons, particularly portable antiaircraft missiles, from being stolen and dispersed.

Untold numbers of the missiles, including SA-7’s, have already been looted from government arsenals, and American officials fear they could circulate widely, including heat-seeking antiaircraft missiles that could be used against civilian airliners.

"What I worry about most is the proliferation of these weapons," the senior military officer said, noting that the United States has already been quietly meeting with leaders of Libya’s neighbours in Africa’s Sahel region to stem the flow of the missiles.

The officer said that small teams of American military and other government weapons experts could be sent into Libya after the fall of Al Qathafi’s regime to help Libyan rebel and other international forces secure the weapons.

If Colonel Al Qathafi himself continued to hold out in Tripoli, it became increasingly clear that even his most senior aides were making exits of their own.

The Tunisian state news agency reported Saturday that Libya’s oil minister, Omran Abukraa, had sought refuge in Tunisia after leaving Tripoli on what was ostensibly a business trip abroad. If confirmed, his flight n would be the third of a senior government official in the past week.

Abdul Salam Jalloud, a former Al Qathafi deputy, was reported to have left on Friday. A senior security official, Nassr al-Mabrouk Abdullah, flew to Cairo with his family on Monday.

After reports of the Tripoli fighting began, some residents said that a group of rebel fighters had infiltrated the city from the east and were spearheading the uprising, surprising the pro-Al Qathafi forces who had fortified for an attack from the western approach guarded by Zawiyah.

Residents added that in recent weeks rebels had also smuggled weapons into the city by boat to the beaches east of Tripoli to prepare. Their claims could not be independently confirmed.

Amid worries from the West and humanitarian groups that rebel fighters might seek revenge against Al Qathafi supporters, the rebels’ National Transitional Council said Saturday that it was reissuing a booklet reminding its mostly novice fighters about the international laws of war.

David D. Kirkpatrick contributed reporting from Zintan, and Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington.

Libyan Rebels Pass Defence Ring Near Tripoli

(N. Y. Times) - Libyan rebels advanced to within 10 miles of Tripoli on Sunday, pushing past the city’s outer defence lines and vowing to combine forces with insurgents who have waged intense battles inside the city, the final stronghold of Libyan leader Col. Muammar Al Qathafi.

Rebel troops approaching from the west claimed to have broken Colonel Al Qathafi’s “ring of steel” defence that had been positioned outside Tripoli on the road to Zawiyah, a strategic oil city now in rebel hands.

Scores of rebels driving pickup trucks mounted with machine guns raced toward Tripoli along the road Sunday afternoon, and insurgents captured a military base of the vaunted Khamis Brigade, seizing a cache of armaments there.

Inside Tripoli, protesters took to the streets and rebels within the city clashed with Al Qathafi loyalists in several neighbourhoods on Sunday, opposition leaders and refugees from the city said. Fighting was heavy but there was no immediate indication that Colonel Al Qathafi’s control of the capital had crumbled.

A rebel spokesman also said that insurgents had opened a new line of attack on Tripoli at dawn on Sunday by sending boats from the port city of Misurata to link up with fighters in the city. It was not clear how many fighters were involved in that operation.

Colonel Al Qathafi issued a new audio message played over state television on Sunday saying he will stay in Tripoli "until the end" and calling on his supporters to help liberate the capital from a rebel offensive. He said he was "afraid that Tripoli will burn."

Moussa Ibrahim, a government spokesman, confirmed on state television that a small number of rebel fighters had engaged in hostile fire in Tripoli but said that city remained well-defended by “thousands of professional and volunteer soldiers” loyal to the government. “The situation is under control,” he said.

But with turmoil inside Tripoli, and a vaunted line of defence outside the city appearing to have done little to contain the rebel advance, the events suggested a possibly decisive shift in the six-month uprising against Colonel Al Qathafi, which has already become by far the most violent of the Arab Spring uprisings.

NATO troops continued close-air support of the rebels all day on Sunday, with multiple strikes by NATO aircraft helping clear the road to Tripoli from Zawiyah. Rebel leaders in the west credited NATO with thwarting an attempt on Sunday by Al Qathafi loyalists to reclaim Zawiyah with a flank assault on the city.

While rebels expressed hopes that Al Qathafi forces were losing their will to fight, support for the government could remain strong inside Tripoli. Analysts said that crucial role played by NATO an aiding the rebel advance in the relatively unpopulated areas outside the capital could prove far less effective in an urban environment, where concerns about civilian casualties could hamper NATO’s ability to target government troops.

Most of the recent engagements between government and rebel forces have also involved relatively light fighting, and it is unclear how rebel forces, largely untrained and inconsistently commanded, would fare in intense urban warfare if loyalist troops put up a robust defence of Tripoli.

Of particular note on Sunday, the rebels seemed to meet little resistance from the 32nd Brigade, a unit NATO had considered one of the most elite in Libya, commanded by Khamis Al Qathafi, one of Colonel Al Qathafi’s sons.

The so-called Khamis Brigade was one of the key forces enforcing the defence lines around the capital, extending about 17 miles outside Tripoli to the west and about 20 miles outside the capital city in the south.

Rebels said those points had been breached by Sunday afternoon despite their expectation that Colonel Al Qathafi would use heavy armoured units and artillery to defend them. It was unclear whether the government troops had staged a tactical retreat or been dislodged from their posts by NATO strikes.

After a brief gun battle, rebels took over one of the brigade’s bases along the road to Tripoli. Inside the base, rebels raises their flag and cheered wildly. They began carting away stores of weapons, including rocket propelled grenades and mortars.

While the bodies of several dead loyalists soldiers were left on the ground in the base, it appeared the troops based there had retreated rather than being forced out in battle.

At least one structure on the base suffered significant damage from NATO bombs. Earlier Sunday, rebels portrayed the uprising inside Tripoli as a sign the end of the Al Qathafi regime was near.

“We are coordinating the attacks inside, and our forces from outside are ready to enter Tripoli,” said Anwar Fekini, a rebel leader from the mountainous region in western Libya, speaking by telephone from Tunis.

“If you can call any mobile number in Tripoli, you will hear in the background the beautiful sound of the bullets of freedom.”

Phone calls to several Tripoli residents from different neighbourhoods confirmed widespread gunfire and explosions. And there were reports of frequent NATO jet overflights and airstrikes — a common accompaniment to the drumbeat of the rebel advance in the past week.

But in an audio message broadcast on state television, his second in a week, Colonel Al Qathafi rejected claims of rebel gains, saying his forces had beaten back the Tripoli uprising within hours and announcing military successes in the same cities rebels had claimed to seize on Saturday.

He gave the date and time several times to confirm that he was speaking as events were unfolding.

“The rebels are fleeing like rats, to the mountains,” Colonel Al Qathafi said.

But even as he described a “collapse” among rebel fighters and NATO forces, he railed at world leaders who were supporting the uprising, accusing them of giving rebels “weapons to destroy our air-conditioners!”

He gave no indication of where he might be speaking from, a topic of increasing speculation in recent days as rumors have swirled of his preparing to flee, or perhaps having already left Libya.

If Colonel Al Qathafi’s location remained unknown, it became increasingly clear that even his most senior aides were making exits of their own.

The Tunisian state news agency reported Saturday that Libya’s oil minister, Omran Abukraa, had defected to Tunisia, after leaving Tripoli on what was ostensibly a business trip abroad. If confirmed, his defection would be the third of a senior government official in the past week.

Abdul Salam Jalloud, a former Al Qathafi deputy, was reported to have defected Friday. A senior security official, Nassr al-Mabrouk Abdullah, flew to Cairo with his family on Monday.

Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, the chairman of the rebel government, the National Transitional Council, said that he hoped Colonel Al Qathafi and the rest of his inner circle would follow. “That would be a good thing that will end the bloodshed and help us avoid material costs,” he said. “But I do not expect that he will do that.”

After reports of the Tripoli fighting began, some residents said that a group of rebel fighters had infiltrated the city from the east and were spearheading the uprising, surprising the pro-Al Qathafi forces who had fortified for an attack from the western approach guarded by Zawiyah.

Residents added that in recent weeks rebels had also smuggled weapons into the city by boat to the beaches east of Tripoli to prepare. Their claims could not be independently confirmed.

The latest phase of the battle began after rebels on Saturday drove the remaining loyalists troops out of Zawiyah, the strategic oil refinery town 30 miles west of Tripoli. After a week of heavy fighting there, residents began to celebrate in the main square.

The Arab news network Al Jazeera reported that Zlitan, a crucial Al Qathafi barracks town east of Tripoli, also had fallen to the rebels. They captured Gharyan, the gateway to the south, last week.

Farther east, the rebels claimed to have seized the residential areas of the oil port of Brega, a prize that has changed hands many times since the uprising began.

A senior American official said Colonel Al Qathafi’s days “are numbered.”

“It is clear that the situation is moving against Al Qathafi,” Jeffrey D. Feltman, an assistant secretary of state, said after meeting rebel leaders in Benghazi, the rebel capital. “The opposition continues to make substantial gains on the ground while his forces grow weaker.”

Rebel leaders were optimistic. “The end is very near” for Colonel Al Qathafi, said Mr. Abdul-Jalil, the leader of the rebel’s governing council. “We have contacts with people from the inner circle of Al Qathafi,” he said. “All evidence is that the end is very near, with God’s grace.”

Amid worries from the West and humanitarian groups that rebel fighters might seek revenge against Al Qathafi supporters, the rebels’ National Transitional Council said Saturday that it was reissuing a booklet reminding its mostly novice fighters about the international laws of war.

But the battle was hardly over. In the past six months, the rebels have frequently proven unable to hold captured territory, sometimes keeping it no longer than a few days. Government forces were still fighting fiercely outside Zawiyah, and in Brega they controlled the oil refinery.

Gunshots heard in Tripoli after daybreak

(Reuters.France 24) - Explosions and gunfire rang out in Tripoli after dawn as opponents of Muammar Al Qathafi rose up in the capital, declaring a final push to topple the Libyan leader after a six-month war reached the city's outskirts.

Al Qathafi said in a message broadcast on state television that an assault by "rats" - his description of the rebels - had been repelled, while a senior rebel official said "zero hour" was approaching for the Libyan leader.

At daybreak, more than 12 hours after the fighting first broke out, shooting could still be heard in the capital, though it was less heavy and sustained.

A Reuters reporter at a hotel in the city centre said she could hear bursts of machine gun fire about every few minutes, and occasional booms from heavy weapons.

A rebel activist in Tripoli said pro-Al Qathafi forces had positioned snipers on the rooftops of buildings around Bab al-Azziziyah, Al Qathafi's compound.

As he spoke, single gunshots could be heard in the background, at intervals of a few seconds.

"Residents are crying, seeking help. One resident was martyred, many were wounded," said the activist, who spoke to a Reuters reporter outside Libya. It was not immediately possible to verify his account independently.

The fighting inside Tripoli, combined with rebel advances to the outskirts of the city, appeared to signal the decisive phase in a six month conflict that has become the bloodiest of the "Arab Spring" uprisings and embroiled NATO powers.

But Al Qathafi's fall is far from certain. His security forces did not buckle as some rebels had predicted. The uprising appeared to be isolated to a few neighbourhoods, and had not spread to the whole city.

The rebels said the uprising was being coordinated with anti-Al Qathafi fighters outside the city. They were fighting toward Tripoli from the town of Zawiyah, to the west, and also along the main highway to the south of the capital.

Near the southern front line, rebels were gathering forces to try to advance on Al-Azziziyah, which is about 45 km (27 miles) south of Tripoli and is the southern gateway to the capital.

At a checkpoint south of Al-Azziziyah, a Reuters reporter saw rebels bring mortar launchers up to the front. Pick-up trucks with anti-aircraft guns bolted to the back drove through the checkpoint heading north.

"Hopefully we'll take Al-Azziziyah today and then march to Tripoli," said Mohammed, among a group of rebels waiting for the order to move forward.

"Rats eliminated"

In an audio recording broadcast soon after midnight, Al Qathafi sought to show residents he was still in control.

"Those rats ... were attacked by the masses tonight and we eliminated them," Al Qathafi said. "I know that there are air bombardments but the fireworks were louder than the sound of the bombs thrown by the aircraft."

In the eastern city of Benghazi, the rebel National Transitional Council - seen by Western powers as Libya's legitimate government - said the fighting in Tripoli was part of a pre-planned and coordinated revolt.

"The zero hour has started. The rebels in Tripoli have risen up," Abdul Hafiz Ghoga, vice-chairman of the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC), based in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, told Reuters.

Al Qathafi's influential former number two, Abdul Salam Jalloud, who defected to the rebel cause a day earlier, appeared on Al Jazeera by Internet video link and called on the capital to rise against "the tyrant."

"Tonight you claim victory over fear," he said. An NTC official, Mohammed al-Allaqi, said Jalloud was in Rome.

The clashes inside the capital triggered massive street celebrations in Benghazi as well as elsewhere in rebel-controlled parts of the country and in the capital of neighbouring Tunisia.

Rebel advances on Tripoli have transformed the war since they seized the city of Zawiyah on Tripoli's Western outskirts a week ago, cutting the capital off from its main road link to the outside world and putting unprecedented pressure on Al Qathafi.

Before dawn, state television showed Al Qathafi's son Seif al-Islam addressing what it called a youth conference. A roomful of supporters broke into occasional chants and applause as he declared that the rebels would be defeated.

"The revolt in Libya will not succeed. You will never see us as Libyans surrender and raise the white flag: that is impossible. This is our country and we will never leave it."

Mosque minarets

Residents in Tripoli said the fighting was triggered at sunset, when Muslim clerics used the loudspeakers on mosque minarets to call people on to the streets.

A Reuters reporter in a hotel near the centre of Tripoli said there was heavy and sustained gunfire for hours. At times there would be a lull, then it would start up again.

Accounts from residents suggested that the fighting was concentrated in the Tajourah and Fashloom districts in the east of Tripoli, and the Souk al-Jumaa district near the centre - all areas where anti-Al Qathafi feeling runs high.

"We can hear shooting in different places," another resident said. "Most of the regions of the city have gone out, mostly young people ... it's the uprising... They went out after breaking the (Ramadan) fast."

"They are shouting religious slogans: 'God is greatest!'"

Washington says Al Qathafi's days are numbered, and reports have emerged of more defections from his ranks. President Barack Obama, on vacation in Martha's Vineyard, was receiving regular updates on Libya, a senior White House official said.

"If Tripoli eventually falls to the rebels, Al Qathafi's already limited options become even more limited. Pressure on him and his shrinking circle of loyalists has to be taking a serious toll," a senior White House official said.

Al Qathafi renews call to arms as rebels claim advances in Tripoli

(CNN) - As rebels inside Tripoli said they were advancing toward ruler Muammar Al Qathafi's compound Sunday, the defiant leader called on Libyans to stop "colonizers" from taking over the nation's capital.

"I am with you in this fight. We will not give up," he said in audio remarks broadcast on Libyan state television.

"The colonisers are trying to colonize the city of Tripoli, so they come with their army to invade our beloved Libya," he said, "but we will not allow them to do so until the last blood drops from every man and woman."

Al Qathafi's remarks came as gunfire crackled and explosions rocked Tripoli, and government officials reported that more than 370 people had been killed in the past day of clashes.

A 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 Sunday.

Nearly 1,000 people were wounded in fighting that began Saturday night, a Libyan government official said, and 376 were killed. Officials did not provide further details about the casualties.

Libya's government spokesman vowed that loyalist soldiers and volunteers would fend off attacks.

"Tripoli is well-protected, with thousands upon thousands ready to defend the city against any invasion," government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim told reporters Sunday.

"They wholeheartedly believe that if this city is captured, the blood will run everywhere, so they may as well fight until the end," he added.

Seif al-Islam Al Qathafi, a son of the ruler and a top official in his regime, said earlier on state television that the rebels were losing every battle. His statement came hours after his father told supporters that the "traitors" and their NATO allies were lying and nearing their end.

The Al Qathafis accounts, however, contrasted with reports from CNN reporters, witnesses and rebel officials that government forces continued to lose ground across the North African nation and faced fresh attacks in the capital.

Rebels moved truckloads of ammunition on roads toward Tripoli Sunday after seizing an ammunition depot previously held by Al Qathafi's forces. After claiming victory in Zawiyah - about 30 miles west of Tripoli - a group of rebel forces said they were continuing their march east and closing in on the capital.

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 had set car tires afire along barricades there, the official said.

The official said 65,000 troops loyal to Al Qathafi were ready to defend Tripoli, and warned that a massacre would occur if NATO continued to back rebel efforts.

Faithi Baja, political affairs chief for the rebels' Transitional National Council, said in a video statement Sunday that the rebel fighters' freshly launched operation inside Tripoli was "going easily" and that they were inching toward Al Qathafi's Bab al-Azziziyah compound.

"Most of the neighbourhoods in Tripoli are rising up," said Jumma Ibrahim, a rebel spokesman from the western mountain region around Zintan. He also said Libyan rebels took control of the city of Jaddaim, west of Tripoli, on Saturday night.

The rebel spokesman claimed opposition fighters had taken control of the main intelligence operations building in Tripoli. He also said some Libyan army personnel had defected and joined the rebels in the area of the capital's airport, which he claimed the rebels took over.

But the government spokesman denied that the airport had switched hands, insisting all of Tripoli was safe and under the control of Al Qathafi's forces.

CNN could not immediately confirm whether rebel fighters had taken control of any parts of the city, including the airport.

Gunfire and explosions have been common in the capital, but a CNN crew on the ground for weeks reports that this weekend's fighting appears to be among the most intense yet.

Heavy clashes erupted Saturday night in at least one Tripoli neighbourhood, marked by intense gunfire, explosions and people screaming as they ran through the street, a resident told CNN.

On Sunday morning, several fires were burning in eastern Tripoli.

The Libyan government spokesman appealed for a cease-fire Sunday and called on NATO to stop its campaign.

"Every drop of Libyan blood shed by these rebels is the responsibility of the western world, especially NATO's countries. 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," Moussa Ibrahim said.

NATO, working under a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force to protect Libyan civilians, has conducted 7,459 strike sorties in Libya since the end of March, the alliance said Sunday. It made 22 "key hits" in the Tripoli area Saturday, including on several military facilities.

Officials briefed Obama on the situation in Libya Sunday morning and the President will continue to receive updates, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

"We believe that Al Qathafi's days are numbered, and that the Libyan people deserve a just, democratic and peaceful future," Earnest said.

A senior Obama administration official said Sunday that Al Qathafi's "already limited options (would) become even more limited" if Tripoli falls to rebels.

"Anti-Al Qathafi forces have had momentum on their side for some time," the official said. "What we're seeing is further evidence of their sustained persistence."

U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona and ranking member of the Senate's armed services committee, said it was "a matter of hours if not days" before Al Qathafi leaves power.

"I believe that it's nearing the end," he told the CBS programme "Face the Nation" Sunday.

As clashes appeared to intensify Sunday, a Maltese ship seeking to evacuate foreign nationals from Libya came under heavy fire as it attempted to dock at the Tripoli port.

A rebel-controlled ship ambushed the ship's crew and passengers near the Libyan coastline in what appeared to be a hijack attempt. As the captain tried to steer toward the port, Al Qathafi forces began firing at the rebels, leaving the Maltese ship in the crossfire.

No injuries were reported, but the ship was forced to turn around, with its crew fearing for the safety of those onboard. The foreign nationals remained stranded in Libya.

Al Qathafi, meanwhile, claimed rebel officials were lying about the situation in Tripoli and beyond. He said the six-month-long conflict would climax soon.

In an audio address broadcast on state-run TV, the Libyan leader blasted the rebel "traitors" and the NATO forces backing them as unethical and intent on destroying the county and ruining lives. And as he had done in a speech six days earlier, he tried to rally citizens to his side.

"March forward, march forward, march forward. They have lost and used everything, and their last resort is their lying campaign. Now, this is the ending," he said.

About 30 miles west of Tripoli, thick plumes of smoke hung over the sky Sunday as multiple loud explosions rocked the city of Zawiyah.

Rebel fighters told CNN they controlled Zawiyah and had pushed Al Qathafi's forces 15 miles outside the city, moving that battle's frontline closer to Tripoli. But Al Qathafi's forces continued firing into Zawiyah from a distance.

Rebel forces also said they controlled a major oil refinery and cut off a key coastal road outside the city - a major supply route to the capital.

Libyan state television reported Sunday that dozens of armed rebels were arrested south of Zawiyah, and their weapons were seized.

Rebel fighters told CNN Saturday that NATO had warned civilians to leave the main part of the city. NATO has not yet commented on that statement.

As for the capital, Seif al-Islam Al Qathafi laughed at the notion that the opposition would take Tripoli. And he was emphatic that he, his father and their supporters would not surrender.

"We are in our land, in our country," he said. "We have no problem if it takes six months, one year or two years -- victory will be ours. This is our country, and we will not leave it."

Libyan rebels in 'final push' for capital

(Aljazeera.net) - Al Qathafi pledges to stay in Tripoli until the end in new audio address, as opposition fighters close in on the city.

Libyan leader Muammar Al Qathafi has pledged once again to remain in Tripoli until the end, as opposition fighters battled their way towards the capital to reinforce rebels who rose up in the city overnight.

Fighting continued into Sunday morning in a few central and eastern neighbourhoods, and rebel flags were raised over some buildings, witnesses said. Much of the population took cover inside their homes.

The clashes came a day after forces loyal to Al Qathafi used heavy machine guns and mortars to confront lightly armed opposition forces and protesters who took to the streets.

As opposition fighters continued what they called their "final push" for the capital, Al Qathafi addressed the nation in an audio message aired on state television on Sunday.

In it, he refused to surrender and pledged to emerge "victorious" from the fighting for Tripoli. He also called on the people of Libya to come from all regions to liberate Tripoli, saying he was in the city with them and that together they would fight to the end.

"We will not, we will not abandon Tripoli to the occupants and their agents. I am with you in this battle," he said.

"We do not surrender and, by God's grace, we will emerge victorious."

'Take over Tajoura'

He called on his supporters to "march on (the district of) Tajoura in tens of thousands to purge the officials of the colonisers," in a reference to the NATO-backed rebels.

"Today we must take over Tajoura. I fear, if you let them, they will destroy Tripoli," he warned.

Meanwhile, outside of Tripoli, rebel fighters closed in. They advanced tens of kilometres from Zawiyah, to the west, seizing the town of al-Mayah and putting themselves within several kilometres of the capital's suburbs.

Other rebel formations remained further way, stationed to the south, in Gharyan, and to the east, in Zlitan.

Despite the greatest challenge yet to his power, Al Qathafi has remained pugnacious. In a telephoned audio address a day earlier, he exhorted his followers and congratulated them for defeating the "rats".

His most prominent son, Seif al-Islam, also gave a televised speech, saying the regime did not know how to raise the "white flag" of surrender.

Regime uses mortars and anti-aircraft guns

Rebels in the west have taken numerous towns and hundreds of kilometres of ground in the past month.
Meanwhile, gunfire and explosions were reported near the Bab al-Azziziyah - a sprawling regime command and control compound - and in the Souq al-Jomaa and Abu Sita neighbourhoods.

Rebels said some regime troops defending the Maitiga air base in the capital had abandoned their posts, though mass defections were not reported.

Taher, a resident near the Bab al-Azziziyah, told Al Jazeera that men in his neighbourhood, some of whom were armed with AK-47 assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, had begun protesting last night and blocked the roads.

Around 30 to 40 regime security forces responded on Sunday morning with assault rifles and anti-aircraft guns. Some took positions on the rooftops of the nearby Nigerian Embassy and an eye clinic and opened fire, forcing the men to take cover inside the walled compounds of neighbourhood homes.

Youssef, another Tripoli resident who lives in the Abu Sita neighbourhood, said regime gunmen had taken positions on the top of the nearby Libyana mobile company building and were firing indiscriminately, as other forces launched mortar rounds.

The streets in the area were deserted, he said, as occasional gunfire and booming explosions could be heard in the background.

The rebel flag, a tricoloured emblem of the country's first post-colonial days, flew over many buildings in the neighbourhood, he said.

"We are waiting for the revolutionaries to come to conquer Tripoli, because we don't have weapons to defend ourselves," he said.

"Al Qathafi troops are using heavy artillery and heavy weapons, and we don't know what's going to happen in the next two to three hours."

Government said rebels 'dealt with'

Protests began at around 9pm local time on Saturday, as residents took to the streets in numerous areas of the capital, many of them emerging from mosques and chanting "God is great".

Expatriate Libyans speaking to family members in the capital said men went out to protest, some with weapons, while children and women were asked to stay home. Meanwhile, NATO aircraft reportedly carried out bombing raids after nightfall.

Government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim earlier said rebels had tried to attack Tripoli but had been "dealt with".

Ibrahim said that pro-regime volunteers had repelled attacks in several neighbourhoods. He dismissed mounting speculation that the regime was on the brink, but more gunfire was heard after he spoke on television.

'Operation Mermaid Dawn'

A senior official in the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) said on Sunday that operations in Tripoli were co-ordinated between opponents of Al Qathafi in the city and the rebels in the east.

"The zero hour has started. The rebels in Tripoli have risen up," said Abdul Hafiz Ghoga, vice-chairman of the NTC, in the eastern city of Benghazi.

"There is co-ordination with the rebels in Tripoli. This was a pre-set plan. They've been preparing for a while. There's co-ordination with the rebels approaching from the east, west and south," he said.

Colonel Fadlallah Haroun, a military commander in Benghazi, said the battles marked the beginning of Operation Mermaid Dawn. Tripoli's nickname in Libya is "Bride of the Sea," or mermaid.

Haroun told the AP news agency that weapons were assembled and sent by tugboats to Tripoli on Friday night.

"The fighters in Tripoli are rising up in two places at the moment - some are in the Tajoura neighbourhood and the other is near the Matiga airport," he told Al-Jazeera.

Tajoura has been known since the beginning of the uprising in February as one of the Tripoli neighbourhoods most openly opposed to Al Qathafi's rule. The Matiga airport is located in the city, while the international airport is located around 30km south.

A rebel representative for Tripoli on the NTC told AP that rebels were surrounding almost every neighbourhood in the capital, and there was especially heavy fighting in Fashloum, Tajoura and Souq al-Jomaa.

In Benghazi, thousands of Libyans celebrated in the main city square, shooting fireworks and guns into the air, and waving rebel flags.

Libyan rebels move on Tripoli as Al Qathafi forces fight to hang on

(L.A. Times) - Both sides in the Libyan conflict claim the upper hand as uprisings are reported across Tripoli. The government calls for a cease-fire but Al Qathafi says the insurgents are fleeing 'like rats.'

Rebels racing toward the Libyan capital encountered heavy gunfire Sunday asMoammar Al Qathafi's forces fought to hang onto their rapidly shrinking stronghold in the face of NATO airstrikes and uprisings in neighbourhoods acrossTripoli.

The fate of the capital was uncertain but it was clear that Al Qathafi loyalists were contending with a battlefield of multiple and shifting fronts. Rebels advanced from the south, east and west while Muslim clerics urged residents inTripoli and its outskirts to rise up against the Libyan army.

The intense pressure on Al Qathafi's last redoubt in the 6-month-old revolt led the government to offer a cease-fire as it warned that atrocities might occur if the rebel offensive wasn't stopped. But even as that appeal was made Al Qathafi taunted the insurgents as rats and a newscaster on state TV brandished a pistol on air and promised to kill rebels.

The government calls for "an immediate halt of NATO's aggression against our nation, and for all parties to sit down and begin a peaceful way out of this crisis," spokesman Moussa Ibrahim told a news conference in Tripoli. "We believe unless the international community heeds this appeal, many people will be killed and terrible crimes will be committed."

In a mind game of intrigue and deception, each side was claiming the upper hand. Opposition forces advancing from the town of Zawiyah retreated after fierce battles about 30 miles west of Tripoli.

They gathered in Jaddayim and prepared for another onslaught. Rebel leaders said their supporters rallied inside the capital as part of a coordinated operation, but the government claimed "armed gangs" had been defeated.

Media reports also said that opposition forces had captured the base of the elite 32nd Brigade commanded by Al Qathafi's son, Khamis. The headquarters is about 15 miles outside the capital.

"We are not going back. God willing, this evening we will enterTripoli," Issam Wallani, a rebel told the Associated Press near Jaddayim.

The collaborators with "the West are moving from one town to the next claiming control, but they are not in control, they are escaping like rats," Al Qathafi said in an audio broadcast on Libyan television early Sunday. "People are kissing my picture. I am their leader, I am their father."

NATO spokesman Col. Roland Lavoie told reporters in Brussels that the fast-moving events were complicating the choosing of targets for alliance warplanes. "There is no longer a traditional front line as we had in other phases of the conflict," said Lavoie.

Only in recent weeks have the lightly armed rebels capitalized on NATO bombardments on Al Qathafi's artillery, tanks and supply routes, part of a 5-month-old campaign launched initially to protect civilians from the Libyan military.

The insurgents have made costly tactical mistakes in the past and have yet to encounter an urban battlefield such asTripoli, a city of more than 1.6 million that may be booby-trapped and defended by snipers and pro-Al Qathafi militias.

But high-level defections have further jeopardised Al Qathafi's control. Abdul-Salam Jalloud, who helped the Libyan leader to rise to power in a 1969 coup, defected in recent days and is reported to be in Rome. Jalloud has influence with the nation's clans and urged Al Qathafi's tribe to "disown this tyrant because he will go and you will end up inheriting his legacy."

In a video message broadcast by Al Jazeera, he added: "It is time to act. … Overcome fear."

The rebel offensive - a careening parade of mud-splattered pickups and mismatched uniforms - gained momentum a week ago. Insurgents entered Zawiyah, about 30 miles west ofTripoli, and pressed into Gharyan, about 50 miles south of the capital.

They later captured Zlitan, a strategic coastal town. These victories squeezed Al Qathafi's supply lines. Pressure on the government intensified when rebel stormed the key oil city of Port Brega, about 415 miles east of Tripoli.

Residents of Tripoli are fleeing food and gas shortages. Al Qathafi hasn't been seen in public for weeks, communicating only by audio messages. Rebels claim that hundreds of his loyalists and soldiers have abandoned their posts.

Al Qathafi's son, Said Islam, told supporters Sunday: "It is impossible that we would surrender."

Libyan rebels converging on Tripoli

(Washington Post) - Rebel fighters converged on Tripoli from the east, west and south on Sunday as dissidents in the capital claimed they controlled several key neighbourhoods known to be strongholds of opposition support.

Rebels advancing from the west were making rapid progress in their push toward Tripoli on Sunday, reaching Jedaim, a strategic point 15 miles from the centre of the capital, sparking hopes they could reach the city itself by nightfall.

As they advanced, the rebels captured a major military base that is home to the Khamis Brigade, an elite force led by Libyan leader Muammar Al Qathafi’s son, Khamis.

Celebrating rebels seized weapons from the base. Two fighters carried boxes of brand-new Belgian munitions, as others zipped by in trucks filled with other ammunition they had taken from the base.

As the rebels closed in, Al Qathafi delivered a brief but defiant speech on Libyan state television, in which he insisted he was in Tripoli and vowed not to surrender.

“We cannot go back until the last drop of our blood. We will defend the city. I am here with you,” he said in the audio statement, purportedly broadcast live. “Go on, go forward!”

Reports from Tripoli were sketchy and impossible to confirm because journalists were confined to their hotel, and cell phone contact was cut off in many areas, making it hard for residents to know exactly what was happening in other areas.

But two rebel organizers contacted by telephone in the capital said Al Qathafi opponents had secured control of at least five neighbourhoods, including Souq al-Jumaa, Tajaura, Fashloum, Arada and Zawiyat al-Dahmani.

U.S. diplomats and security officials were closely tracking the situation in Tripoli. One U.S. official who was monitoring the intelligence from Libya said the situation in the capital was fluid, but cautioned that Al Qathafi and his hard-core loyalists did not appear likely to give up easily.

“The opposition is gaining ground and putting more pressure on the regime each day,” said the official, who insisted on anonymity in discussing intelligence. “When this translates into a tipping point and what the endgame will look like is hard to determine. Al Qathafi isn’t sure what he’s going to do from one moment to the next.”

The lightly armed opponents, who have spent months quietly organizing for this moment, are now within a mile and a half of Al Qathafi’s Bab al-Azziziyah compound and were hoping to launch an assault on the headquarters as early as tonight, said an activist who uses the name Tony.

“We’re waiting for our brothers to get here from the west, and if they get here tonight then tonight’s our night,” he said.

Fierce gunfights in Tripoli had died down early Sunday morning as rebels gained control of Souk al-Jumaa in the eastern part of the capital and blocked roads to stop forces loyal to Muammar Al Qathafi, dissidents reached by phone in Tripoli said.

Airstrikes could be heard throughout the city, said one rebel, Tony said. He said he was headed toward Zawiyah to coordinate with rebel fighters and help them storm the city.

Anti-Al Qathafi rebels seized control of the key western city of Zawiyah on Saturday, and witnesses reported early Sunday that battles had erupted in several neighbourhoods of the Libyan capital.

The ragtag rebel army’s advances set off a wave of speculation that Al Qathafi’s rule was crumbling, but a government spokesman said the city remained under government control.

Dissidents reached by phone in Tripoli said fighting in the city’s eastern opposition strongholds of Tajura and al-Juma began Saturday night just after the last prayers of the day.

The rebels reportedly were also trying to take control of a domestic airport just outside the capital. Their fighters had pushed many of Al Qathafi’s forces into the centre of the city, and they were being bombarded by rocket-propelled grenades and antiaircraft fire, dissidents said.

Both sides had heavy casualties, they said, but it was not possible to confirm the reports.

Dissidents said they were waiting for rebels from the east, west and south to storm the city, supply them with weapons and finish the fight for the capital.

“The rebels are waiting, and we are ready to take the city,” said Capt. Hussein al-Zalgy, a policeman who had defected. He said the opposition needed arms and fighters to take the eastern gate, where he estimated 40 percent of Al Qathafi’s forces were stationed.

Al Qathafi forces were blocking entrances into the city Sunday morning, al-Zalgy said, adding that “if the fighters can enter the city from three sides, we will find a way” to take Tripoli.

On Sunday morning, Al Qathafi spoke on state television in what seemed to be a live address by phone. Referring to himself as the father of Libya, he called the rebels “traitors” and the fighting a “tragedy during Ramadan,” the Muslim holy month.

“Is this democracy? I think not,” he said. Before he hung up, Al Qathafi urged his supporters to “go forward.” He criticized NATO and Persian Gulf Arab countries for destroying Libya, and he accused the French of intervening for “Libyan oil.”

Al Qathafi family members to be evacuated from Tunisia on board Venezuelan plane: media

(Xinhua) - A Venezuelan plane has landed on the island of Djerba to evacuate members of Libyan leader Muammar Al Qathafi's family, Tunisian radio, Mosaique FM, reported on Friday. The news was announced by the radio's correspondent on the Tunisia- Libyan border.

The correspondent, quoting a rebel source in Libya's eastern city of Benghazi, said that Al Qathafi's family members would soon leave Tunisia for the Venezuelan capital Caracas, adding that "it was the beginning of the end of Al Qathafi's rule." It is not clear how they would be evacuated to Tunisia.

The source also said that it was highly likely that Al Qathafi himself is no longer in the Libyan capital Tripoli, following overnight NATO strikes against his residential compound.

Tunisian spokesman denies Al Qathafi's family in Tunisia

An interior ministry spokesman denied reports on Friday that Al Qathafi's family are in Tunisia after fleeing from Libya.

"Our teams are working around the clock to monitor border traffic," he said, adding that "neither Al Qathafi nor members of his family entered the country in 2011." His statement was broadcasted on Tunisian radio.

Earlier on Friday, Tunisian Radio Mosaique FM quoted a Libyan rebel source as saying that members of Al Qathafi's family fled to Tunisia to board a Venezuelan plane bound for Caracas.

The report also said that it was highly likely that Al Qathafi himself is no longer in the Libyan capital Tripoli, following overnight NATO strikes against his residential compound.

Libyan forces on ropes in Tripoli?

(UPI) - Libya's besieged government called for a cease-fire Sunday after rebels launched an offensive inside the capital city of Tripoli.

A government spokesman issued a statement demanding a halt to the offensive, saying Tripoli was well defended and that the rebels were no match for Muammar Al Qathafi's army without significant backing from NATO, Britain's Sky News reported.

"We have thousands upon thousands of professional soldiers ready to defend this city against any possible invasion by rebels under the cover of NATO," the statement said.

Media reports Sunday said running gun battles in Tripoli had ebbed and flowed and Al Qathafi's forces remained in control of the waterfront and the eastern reaches of city.

"I think (Al Qathafi) has lost most of the city," one dissident leader told The Washington Post by telephone during a lull in the fighting. "We have information that they are planning an attack on us soon."

Another rebel leader, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, told the Los Angeles Times: "The end is very near. I expect a catastrophic end for him and his inner circle."

A statement from the White House said President Obama was being regularly briefed on the situation and that the administration believed Al Qathafi's "days are numbered, and that the Libyan people deserve a just, democratic and peaceful future."

Al Qathafi vows to stay in Tripoli as rebels close in. He says “Tripoli will burn”

(Irish Times) - Libyan leader Muammar Al Qathafi said today he will stay in Tripoli "until the end" and called on his supporters around the country to help liberate the capital from a rebel offensive.

He said in an audio message played over state television he was "afraid that Tripoli will burn" and he said he would provide weapons to supporters to fight off the rebels.

His comments came as Libyan rebels battled their way closer to Tripoli to help fighters inside the city who rose up overnight declaring a final showdown with Col Al Qathafi.

The Libyan leader earlier dismissed the rebels as "rats" and said he would not yield. But his grip on power looked more fragile than ever after rebels, fighting for the past six months to end his rule, advanced to within about 25km of Tripoli's western edge.

"We're going to Tripoli now," said Moussa, a rebel fighter raised in the United States, near the front line in the village of Al-Maya.

As he spoke, rebel pick-up trucks and a tank trundled down the highway which traces the Mediterranean coast towards Tripoli. Anti-aircraft guns, adapted by the rebels to shoot targets on the ground, pounded away nearby.

In a co-ordinated revolt that rebel cells had been secretly preparing for months, shooting started last night across Tripoli, moments after Muslim clerics, using the loudspeakers on mosque minarets, called people on to the streets.

The fighting inside Tripoli, combined with rebel advances to the outskirts of the city, appeared to signal the decisive phase in a six month conflict that has become the bloodiest of the "Arab Spring" uprisings and embroiled NATO powers.

"Al Qathafi's chances for a safe exit are diminishing by the hour," said Ashour Shamis, a Libyan opposition activist and editor based in Britain.

But Al Qathafi's fall is far from certain. His security forces did not buckle, and the city is much bigger than anything the mostly amateur anti-Al Qathafi fighters, with their scavenged weapons and mismatched uniforms, have ever tackled.

If the Libyan leader is forced from power, there are question marks over whether the opposition can restore stability in this oil exporting country. The rebels' own ranks have been wracked by disputes and rivalry.

Rebels said after a night of heavy fighting, they controlled a handful of city neighbourhoods. Whether they hold on could depend on the speed with which the other rebels reach Tripoli.

"The rebels may have risen too early in Tripoli and the result could be a lot of messy fighting," said Oliver Miles, a former British ambassador to Libya. "The regime may not have collapsed in the city to quite the extent they think it has."

But the rebel advance towards the city was rapid, and there was no sign of fierce resistance from Al Qathafi's security forces. In the past 48 hours, the rebels west of Tripoli have advanced about 25 km, halving the distance between them and the capital.

Government forces put up a brief fight at the village of Al-Maya, leaving behind a burned-out tank, and some cars that had been torched. "I am very happy," said one resident.

The anti-Al Qathafi fighters paused long enough to daub some graffiti on walls in the village.

One read "We are here and we are fighting Al Qathafi," another, "God is great." They then moved on towards Tripoli.

In Benghazi, the eastern Libyan city where the anti-Al Qathafi revolt started and where the rebels have their main stronghold, a senior official said everything was going according to plan.

"Our revolutionaries are controlling several neighbourhoods and others are coming in from outside the city to join their brothers at this time," Abdul Hafiz Ghoga, vice-chairman of the rebel National Transition Council, said.

In an audio recording broadcast late yesterday, Col Al Qathafi - whose location has been kept a secret since NATO warplanes started bombing government buildings - made clear he had no intention of giving in to the rebels.

"Those rats ... were attacked by the masses tonight and we eliminated them," Col Al Qathafi said.

"I know that there are air bombardments but the fireworks were louder than the sound of the bombs thrown by the aircraft."

A spokesman for Col Al Qathafi, in a briefing for foreign reporters, underlined the message of defiance.

The armed units defending Tripoli from the rebels "wholeheartedly believe that if this city is captured the blood will run everywhere so they may as well fight to the end," said the spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim.

"We hold Mr Obama, Mr Cameron and Mr Sarkozy morally responsible for every single unnecessary death that takes place in this country," he said, referring to the leaders of the United States, Britain and France.

A diplomatic source in Paris, where the government has closely backed the rebels, said underground rebel cells in the capital had been following detailed plans drawn up months ago and had been waiting for a signal to act.

That signal was "iftar" - the moment when Muslims observing the holy months of Ramadan break their daily fast. It was at this moment that imams started broadcasting their message from the mosques, residents said.

But the overnight fighting inside the city, while fierce, was not decisive. Rebels said they controlled all or parts of the Tajourah, Fashloom and Souk al-Jumaa neighourhoods, yet there was no city-wide rebellion.

In Tripoli today, the two sides appeared to be jockeying for control of roof terraces to use as firing positions, possibly in preparation for a new burst of fighting after dark.

A rebel activist in the city said pro-Al Qathafi forces had put snipers on the rooftops of buildings around Bab al-Azziziyah, Col Gadady's compound, and on the top of a nearby water tower.

As he spoke, single gunshots could be heard in the background, at intervals of a few seconds.

"Al Qathafi's forces are getting reinforcements to comb the capital," said the activist, who spoke by telephone to a Reuters reporter outside Libya.

"Residents are crying, seeking help. One resident was martyred, many were wounded," he said. It was not immediately possible to verify his account independently.

State television flashed up a message on the screen urging residents not to allow rebel gunmen to hide on their rooftops.

"Agents and al-Qaeda members are trying to destabilise and sabotage the city. You should prevent them from exploiting your houses and buildings, confront them and cooperate with counter-terrorism units, to capture them," it said.

‘I will fight for Tripoli,’ Al Qathafi vows to emerge victorious, NATO says regime crumbling

(Al Arabiya) - As rebel forces fired the opening shots in a battle for the Libyan capital Tripoli, embattled leader Muammar Al Qathafi said that he refused to surrender power and pledged to emerge "victorious" from the fighting for Tripoli.

In a new audio message broadcast on state television on Sunday, Colonel Al Qathafi said on Sunday he will stay in Tripoli "until the end" and called on his supporters around the country to help liberate the capital from a rebel offensive.

"The time is now to fight for your politics, your oil, your land," he said. "I am with you in Tripoli - together until the ends of the earth," Col. Al Qathafi shouted. Col. Al Qathafi added that he was "afraid that Tripoli will burn" and said he would provide weapons to supporters to fight off the rebels.

The message from the Libyan leader came as rebels launched an assault on the Libyan capital, saying it was expected to fall within hours.

As rebels launched their battle for Tripoli, NATO said on Sunday that the Al Qathafi regime is "crumbling."

"What we're seeing tonight is the regime crumbling," chief NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu told AFP. "The sooner Al Qathafi realizes there is no way he can win, the better for everyone."

Libyan rebels had snuck into Tripoli by sea on Sunday to launch the first salvos in the fight for the capital, as opposition forces nearing the capital aimed for a final push to topple Col. Al Qathafi.

A regime spokesman acknowledged a small band of insurgents had penetrated the capital but insisted that Tripoli was well-defended by "thousands" of troops, AFP reported.

The dawn assault by the advance party, who were joined by Tripoli rebels, marked the start of what the opposition has dubbed "Operation Mermaid" and which it vows will end only when the veteran strongman surrenders or departs.

Rebel spokesman Abdullah Melitan said the covert operation, more than six months after an uprising turned into civil war, was launched from their western enclave of Misurata, 200 kilometres (125 miles) from Tripoli.

An advance party "from Misurata reached Tripoli this dawn by sea and joined Tripoli rebels. They are now fighting alongside them," spokesman Abdullah Melitan told AFP.

About 200 Libyan rebel fighters have reached the capital Tripoli in boats from Misurata to reinforce fighters already in the city, a pro-rebel activist in the capital told a Reuters reporter.

He added that rebels were in a fierce gun battle with forces loyal to Muammar Al Qathafi inside the Maitiga airbase in Tripoli's Tajoura district.

Rebel advances on Libya came as NATO appeared to intensify its air strikes after urging civilians to avoid areas around government installations and arsenals.

Meanwhile, the White House predicted on Sunday that Col. Al Qathafi’s days as leader of Libya were nearly over.

President Barack Obama received a briefing from senior national security staffer John Brennan at his rented farmhouse on the resort island of Martha's Vineyard, AFP reported, which included inputs from a US team in rebel stronghold Benghazi.

"The United States continues to communicate closely with our allies, partners, and the (rebels' Transitional National Council)," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

"We believe that Al Qathafi’s days are numbered, and that the Libyan people deserve a just, democratic and peaceful future," he said.

Striking another blow to Col. Al Qathafi’s regime, Tunisia, Libya's neighbour to the west, on Sunday decided to recognize the rebel National Transitional Council as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people, the news agency TAP reported.

Meanwhile, Muammar Al Qathafi’s former right-hand man, Abdul Salam Jalloud, who has change sides in support of the Libyan rebels, said on Sunday that the Colonel would be toppled within ten days at most.

Mr. Jalloud, who was a member of the junta that staged a 1969 coup bringing col. Al Qathafi to power, said on Italy's Rai News that the regime would be finished "within a week, at the latest 10 days, maybe even less."

Fighting in Tripoli on Saturday night and Sunday morning killed 376 people on both sides and injured about 1,000, an official in Muammar Al Qathafi's government told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, a ship chartered by the International Organisation for Migration was to leave late Sunday for Tripoli from Benghazi in eastern Libya to evacuate about 300 foreigners, an IOM official told AFP.

"The boat is due to leave tonight from Benghazi to evacuate around 300 foreigners from Tripoli if the security situation will allow it," Martin Jerrett said.

He added that most of the foreigners were "Egyptians, Bangladeshis, Filipinos ... There is a lot of nationalities. They'll be taken back to Benghazi, then to the Egyptian border by land. We plan to chart more boats in the coming days."

Foreign journalists in the capital also received IOM passes to be evacuated after rebels entered western Tripoli on Sunday in clashes with pro-government forces.

Gunmen loyal to Col. Al Qathafi, reportedly armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles, opened fire late on Sunday from outside Hotel Rixos towards the east - the hotel used by the foreign media in the centre of the Libyan capital.

Thousands of rebel fighters 25 km (15 miles) west of Tripoli were seen moving toward the capital on Sunday evening.

As the rebels advanced, they took control of a barracks belonging to the so-called Khamis brigade, the Libyan government's most elite security unit which is commanded by one of Col. Al Qathafi's sons, Khamis, Reuters reported.

At the base, rebels loaded two huge trucks with boxes full of ammunition as they chanted: "We are coming for you, frizz-head."

Ahmed Al Ajdal, 27, a fighter from Tripoli, was loading up a truck with ammunition.

"This is the wealth of the Libyan people that he was using against us," he said, pointing to his haul. "Now we will use it against him and any other dictator who goes against the Libyan people."

Libya rebels push towards capital to aid revolt

(Reuters)-Muammar Al Qathafi urged Libyans to take up arms and crush an uprising in Tripoli as rebel troops closed on the capital for a final onslaught on his stronghold.

"I am afraid if we don't act, they will burn Tripoli," he said in an audio address broadcast on state television. "There will be no more water, food, electricity or freedom."

Thousands of rebel fighters 25 km (15 miles) west of Tripoli were moving toward the capital on Sunday evening. As they advanced, they took control of a barracks belonging to the Khamis brigade, an elite security unit commanded by one of Al Qathafi's sons, Khamis.

In a coordinated revolt that rebel cells had been secretly preparing for months, shooting started on Saturday night across Tripoli, moments after Muslim clerics, using the loudspeakers on mosque minarets, called people on to the streets.

Al Qathafi, in his second audio broadcast in 24 hours, dismissed the rebels as rats.

"I am giving the order to open the weapons stockpiles," Al Qathafi said. "I call on all Libyans to join this fight. Those who are afraid, give your weapons to your mothers or sisters.

"Go out, I am with you until the end. I am in Tripoli. We will...win."

The fighting inside Tripoli, combined with rebel advances to the outskirts of the city, appeared to signal the decisive phase in a six month conflict that has become the bloodiest of the "Arab Spring" uprisings and embroiled NATO powers.

"Al Qathafi's chances for a safe exit are diminishing by the hour," said Ashour Shamis, a Libyan opposition activist and editor based in Britain.

But Al Qathafi's fall, after four decades in power, is far from certain. His security forces did not buckle, and the city is much bigger than anything the mostly amateur anti-Al Qathafi fighters, with their scavenged weapons and mismatched uniforms, have ever tackled.

If the Libyan leader is forced from power, there are question marks over whether the opposition can restore stability in this oil exporting country. The rebels' own ranks have been wracked by disputes and rivalry.

Revolt premature?

Rebels said after a night of heavy fighting, they controlled a handful of city neighbourhoods. Whether they hold on could depend on the speed with which the other rebels reach Tripoli.

"The rebels may have risen too early in Tripoli and the result could be a lot of messy fighting," said Oliver Miles, a former British ambassador to Libya. "The regime may not have collapsed in the city to quite the extent they think it has."

But the rebel advance toward the city was rapid, and there was no sign of fierce resistance from Al Qathafi's security forces. In the past 48 hours, the rebels west of Tripoli have advanced about 25 km, halving the distance between them and the capital.

Government forces put up a brief fight at the village of Al-Maya, leaving behind a burned-out tank, and some cars that had been torched. "I am very happy," said one resident.

The anti-Al Qathafi fighters paused long enough to daub some graffiti on walls in the village. One read "We are here and we are fighting Al Qathafi," another, "God is great." They then moved on toward Tripoli.

In Benghazi, the eastern Libyan city where the anti-Al Qathafi revolt started and where the rebels have their main stronghold, a senior official said everything was going according to plan.

"Our revolutionaries are controlling several neighbourhoods and others are coming in from outside the city to join their brothers at this time," Abdul Hafiz Ghoga, vice-chairman of the rebel National Transition Council, told Reuters.

A spokesman for Al Qathafi, in a briefing for foreign reporters, underlined the message of defiance.

The armed units defending Tripoli from the rebels "wholeheartedly believe that if this city is captured the blood will run everywhere so they may as well fight to the end," said the spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim.

"We hold Mr Obama, Mr Cameron and Mr Sarkozy morally responsible for every single unnecessary death that takes place in this country," he said, referring to the leaders of the United States, Britain and France.

Snipers on rooftops

A diplomatic source in Paris, where the government has closely backed the rebels, said underground rebel cells in the capital had been following detailed plans drawn up months ago and had been waiting for a signal to act.

That signal was "iftar" - the moment when Muslims observing the holy months of Ramadan break their daily fast. It was at this moment that imams started broadcasting their message from the mosques, residents said.

But the overnight fighting inside the city, while fierce, was not decisive. Rebels said they controlled all or parts of the Tajourah, Fashloom and Souk al-Jumaa neighbourhoods, yet there was no city-wide rebellion.

In Tripoli on Sunday, the two sides appeared to be jockeying for control of roof terraces to use as firing positions, possibly in preparation for a new burst of fighting after dark.

A rebel activist in the city said pro-Al Qathafi forces had put snipers on the rooftops of buildings around Bab al-Azziziyah, Al Qathafi's compound, and on the top of a nearby water tower.

As he spoke, single gunshots could be heard in the background, at intervals of a few seconds.

"Al Qathafi's forces are getting reinforcements to comb the capital," said the activist, who spoke by telephone to a Reuters reporter outside Libya.

"Residents are crying, seeking help. One resident was martyred, many were wounded," he said. It was not immediately possible to verify his account independently.

State television flashed up a message on the screen urging residents not to allow rebel gunmen to hide on their rooftops.

"Agents and al Qaeda members are trying to destabilize and sabotage the city. You should prevent them from exploiting your houses and buildings, confront them and cooperate with counter-terrorism units, to capture them," it said.

Analysis: Libya rebels seek to avoid Tripoli battle

(Reuters) - Libyan rebel forces ill-equipped to fight their way into a city the size of Tripoli may look to locally brokered deals or a burgeoning popular uprising to break the will of Muammar Al Qathafi's forces.

Libya's civil war so far has involved some serious urban fighting in towns such as Misurata, but most battles have been relatively small skirmishes.

If Libyan leader Muammar Al Qathafi retains the loyalty of large numbers of security forces in the capital, the ragtag opposition forces could struggle and there would be little NATO air strikes could do without risking civilians.

"I'm assuming the Tripoli fighting could be the fiercest," said Hayat Alvi, lecturer in Middle East politics at the United States Naval War College. "The wild card will be the Tripoli public. True loyalties will have to finally manifest themselves. I'm predicting in the rebels' favour, but we don't know what Al Qathafi and his sons have up their sleeves."

Gauging the loyalty of Tripoli's population is far from easy. Al Qathafi loyalists have put on many marches and demonstrations of loyalty in recent months, but hundreds if not thousands of his opponents also took to the streets in the early stages of the uprising before they were cowed.

The rebels will hope security forces will melt away.

Some say Al Qathafi himself might already have fled, perhaps to his hometown of Sirte or a desert base further south. The long speeches at boisterous public meetings have given way to broadcast addresses delivered on scratchy telephone lines.

But others say the nascent uprising reported in Tripoli on Saturday night might have come too soon, with opposition forces still too far away to help.

Despite rhetoric of taking Tripoli and ending the war in hours or days, some analysts suspect it is more likely the rebels will cement their stranglehold on the city and then see how events play out.

"I think they'll wait on the outskirts and hope for either an uprising or that Al Qathafi decided to call it a day and leaves," said David Hartwell, Middle East analyst for IHS Jane's. "If they do go in, they could find it very difficult and they will be keen to avoid that. It's relatively obvious that NATO has been providing close air support for the rebels.

"That's one thing in open countryside or lightly populated areas -- although it pushes the Security Council mandate, to put it mildly -- but it would be almost impossible in Tripoli."

Key figures already gone?

Al Qathafi's government seems keen to broker some kind of last-minute ceasefire that would keep them in power. But few believe either the rebels or NATO would agree to that at this stage.

In Paris, a diplomatic source said rebel cells undercover in Tripoli were putting into action plans prepared months ago. He said, however, the rebels were under orders not to enact revenge killings or summary executions against senior members of Al Qathafi's camp.

Saad Djebbar, a former lawyer for the Libyan government, told Reuters he believed many key figures loyal to Al Qathafi had already fled to other countries in Africa such as Niger, Mali and Chad where they had good contacts.

"The big sharks have already left the scene, he said. "It's not going to be Stalingrad. Tripoli is very small. People know each other. People negotiate their way forward. Al Qathafi is bound to have some people who will put up a symbolic fight. But these are mostly thugs and there is no organized force left of any size to check the rebels."

If the rebels are wrong and significant Al Qathafi forces remain, strategists say they could be in serious trouble. Urban warfare is notoriously challenging and bloody, giving a clear advantage to the defender, while some doubt the opposition have sufficient supply lines to sustain an offensive.

"The costliness of urban fighting cannot be overestimated," said political risk consultancy Stratfor in a note. "Such warfare requires a well-trained force with high morale, and the rebel forces in the west are known to be few in number... and extremely ill-trained."

The key battle now, Stratfor said, was psychological -- with the rebel agenda to paint a picture of inevitable victory that would enthuse new uprisings and prompt Al Qathafi loyalists to abandon their cause to save their necks.

Al Qathafi Choices key

Much, of course, will depend on how Al Qathafi himself chooses to play the endgame. He could still perhaps go into either internal or external exile or simply try to copy Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and disappear into the post-war chaos.

Saddam evaded U.S. forces for months following the 2003 fall of Baghdad before they eventually tracked him down - although most analysts believe such a scheme would prove tougher in Libya because of its more disparate geography.

Even if opposition forces were able to take much of Tripoli relatively easily and bloodlessly, they might still struggle to take down the final remnants of the regime.

Then, the situation could resemble that seen earlier this year in Ivory Coast, where opposition fighters loyal to Alassane Ouattara took much of the capital Abidjan but seemed unable to capture incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo.

It took the actions of French helicopter gunships and troops already based in the country to eventually breach his compound and bunker, allowing his capture by local forces.

The International Criminal Court in The Hague indicted Al Qathafi his eldest son and spy chief for crimes committed during their initial crackdown. That might yet prompt foreign military action to help the rebels capture him.

"I would have thought NATO would be very keen let the rebels get Al Qathafi themselves as they possibly can," said IHS Jane's Hartwell. "But if it really came down to getting him out of a hole, you could see some Western involvement as we did in Abidjan. The ICC warrant could make it justifiable in that context.”

Libya rebels battle Al Qathafi troops at thresholds of Tripoli: spokesman

(Xinhua) - Fierce seesaw battles are going on near Tripoli's international airport and a military camp, Libyan rebels military spokesman Ahmed Bani told Xinhua Sunday afternoon.

Bani said the rebels have controlled the Friday Market in Tripoli and are fighting for several other areas, including the Maitiga airbase, headquarters of the state TV and broadcasting station.

Rebel forces from Misurata have arrived in Tripoli by sea and thrown themselves into the battles in the capital city, Bani said, adding that there will be more rebel soldiers coming from Zawiyah, Sorman and Gharyan to join the battle.

In the east front, rebels are besieging Brega from north, south and middle sides of the city.

“We can hear shooting in different places,” another resident said. “Most of the regions of the city have gone out, mostly young people ... it’s the uprising... They went out after breaking the (Ramadan) fast.”

“They are shouting religious slogans: ‘God is greatest!’”

Washington says Al Qathafi’s days are numbered, and reports have emerged of more defections from his ranks. President Barack Obama, on vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, was receiving regular updates on Libya, a senior White House official said.

“If Tripoli eventually falls to the rebels, Al Qathafi’s already limited options become even more limited. Pressure on him and his shrinking circle of loyalists has to be taking a serious toll,” a senior White House official said.

Berlin under fire over 'secret' participation in NATO's Libya mission

(Deutsche Welle) - Berlin's official position is that no German troops are being deployed in Libya. But Bundeswehr soldiers are indirectly taking part in the conflict by providing target assessment for their NATO allies.

"We will not deploy German soldiers in any war in Libya," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle declared in March 2011. Indeed, Germany abstained in the UN Security Council vote on military action in Libya.

Westerwelle was criticised for the German abstention at the UN Security Council

But the reality is less clear-cut. It has now emerged that German soldiers are taking part in selecting targets for the NATO bombing campaign against Muammar Al Qathafi's regime.

The German defence Ministry said that a total of 11 German soldiers were working in operation headquarters in Italy, although not in influential positions.

Green politician Hans-Christian Ströbele thinks, nonetheless, that the disclosure is a scandal. He said the deployment of German troops was "constitutionally very questionable."

According to Ströbele, the move requires the approval of parliament. He claimed it amounted to Germany "secretly" taking part in the Libyan war. Ströbele is now threatening a complaint of unconstitutionality.

"A matter of course"

Defence Minister Thomas de Maiziere has defended the deployment. He called Ströbele's judgment "legally wrong." He said working with NATO staff and preparing the infrastructure for the military operation was "a matter of course" and did not require a special parliamentary mandate.

"It is guaranteed under the jurisdiction of the German constitution," de Maiziere said. He added that Germany's membership of NATO included duties that couldn't simply be shaken off.

The centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) has no concern that the German involvement in NATO's behind-the-scenes work is unconstitutional. SPD defence Spokesman Rainer Arnold said that German soldiers always take part in such operations in some form or another, with or without a mandate from parliament.

"The Constitutional Court would not be able to force us to block NATO in any way," Arnold said.

Just a few weeks ago, it emerged that Germany had been delivering bomb parts for use in the war against Al Qathafi.

Political déjà-vu

Schröder campaigned on the Iraq issue in 2002 The latest discussions about the German involvement in Libya are similar to a debate that took place during the war in Iraq. The American plans for a military invasion were extremely controversial in Germany.

Most of the German public was against the war - along with the then coalition government led by SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

In his election campaign in 2002, Schröder claimed that under his leadership "Germany would not take part in any military action in Iraq."

However, after his reelection, Schröder revised his position somewhat and later only said that there would be no "active" participation under his leadership. And German troops were never in fact deployed on Iraqi soil. But despite Schröder's categorical rejection of the Iraq war, a number of soldiers were involved in a supporting capacity.

During the Iraq war, a 200-strong German army battalion was stationed in the American operation headquarters at Camp Doha in Kuwait. Furthermore, German soldiers oversaw US bases in Germany, which were used as a launch-pad for aircraft.

The Americans were granted permission to fly warplanes over German airspace.

German soldiers flew across the Turkey-Iraq border for NATO reconnaissance purposes. Those missions all took place without the explicit approval of parliament. In 2008, the Federal Constitutional Court ruled that the then government had acted unconstitutionally.

Secret services

After the war in Iraq was over, it also emerged that employees of the German Intelligence Service (BND) may have supported the USA in their mission. Two agents were active in Baghdad during the war.

They apparently passed intelligence to the American secret services concerning the whereabouts of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. The US army then bombed the building and several civilians were killed. Saddam Hussein was not present.

The German government later confirmed the presence of the BND agents. But it said they were only giving non-military information to their American counterparts.

It is not the first time that Germany is taking part in a military operation abroad despite an official denial. But there is a crucial difference: In Libya, the mission is led by NATO and approved by the UN Security Council. The war in Iraq was carried out by the so-called "Coalition of the Willing" under the leadership of the USA.

Morgan Strong
- Contributing Editor, New York


 
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