| 22.08,11. 01:16 AM |
Rebels advance amid reports of fighting in Tripoli
Libyan rebels said they were less than 20 miles (30 kilometers) from Moammar Gadhafi’s main stronghold of Tripoli on Sunday, a day after opposition fighters launched their first attack on the capital itself.
Fighters said a 600-strong rebel force that set out from Zawiya has reached the outskirts of the village of Jedaim and was coming under heavy fire from regime forces on the eastern side of the town. Murad Dabdoub, a fighter who returned to Zawiya from the front, told The Associated Press that Gadhafi’s forces were pounding rebel positions with rockets, mortars and anti-aircraft fire.
The rebels’ arrival at Jedaim was also confirmed by Abdul-Bari Gilan, a doctor in Zawiya. He told the AP that he had treated a rebel who was wounded in the fighting at Jedaim.
NATO said the shifting battle lines and concentration of fighting in towns and villages are making it more difficult to identify and engage targets for airstrikes.
“It’s much tougher to do in an urban area,” NATO spokesman Col. Roland Lavoie said. "This requires very precise and deep intelligence to achieve without endangering the civilian population." An AP reporter in Tripoli, meanwhile, said the city was largely quiet on Sunday after a night of gunfire and explosions.
Libyan rebels said Saturday that they had launched their first attack on Tripoli in coordination with NATO and gunbattles and mortar rounds rocked the city. NATO aircraft also made heavy bombing runs after nightfall, with loud explosions booming across the city. Gadhafi’s regime was defiant.
“There are thousands and thousands of soldiers who are willing to defend the city,” government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said at a news conference in Tripoli.
Ibrahim, who earlier played down claims of an uprising in Tripoli, accused the rebels of executing innocent civilians, torching homes and robberies. “They are nothing without NATO,” he said.
State Libyan television on Saturday aired what appeared to be a live audio message by Gadhafi in which he condemned the rebels as traitors and “vermin” who were tearing Libya apart and said they were being chased from city to city - a mirror image of reality.
“Libyans wanted to enjoy a peaceful Ramadan,” he said. “Instead they have been made into refugees. What are we? Palestinians?” He called on Libyans to march by the millions on cities across the nation to peacefully liberate them.
The claims from both sides could not immediately be independently verified.
Tripoli has been Gadhafi’s stronghold since the Libyan civil war began some six months ago, but it is not clear whether the embattled leader was still there.
The capture of Tripoli would almost certainly herald the end of Gadhafi’s regime, more than 40 years after the maverick leader seized power in a military coup that toppled the monarchy of the vast North African nation. Meanwhile, Gadhafi’s son and one-time heir apparent Seif al-Islam delivered a similarly defiant message on Saturday when he addressed supporters.
He told them: “We are not surrendering; it is impossible to raise the white flag.” “Surrender or the white flag are rejected because this is not the decision of Moammar Gadhafi or Seif al-Islam, it is the decision of the Libyan people,” he said.