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Libyan Rebels advance on Tripoli

August 20, 2011

Heavy gunfire, anti-aircraft fire, explosions and mortar shelling have been heard in Tripoli on Saturday night, as rebels inch closer to the capital from the western mountains.

Although the scale of the unrest is unclear, rounds have been fired close to a hotel where foreign journalists have been staying in the capital as rebels Tajoura neighborhood in Tripoli, as well as near the Tripoli international airport.

In a Libyan state television broadcast, government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim told reporters that the heavy gunfire heard in Tripoli came after rebels sneaked into the city in “small groups of a few dozen.”

Mr. Ibrahim said that the rebels were later arrested and among them were Algerians, Tunisians and Egyptians.

As sounds of heavy gunfire intensified, speculation was rife that Muammar Qaddafi’s 41-year rule was close to collapse.

This week’s rebel advances on Tripoli – Colonel Qaddafi’s last major stronghold – have transformed the war by cutting the capital off from its main road link to the outside world and putting unprecedented pressure on Col. Qaddafi.

Although the leader has repeatedly vowed never to leave the country and rebels say they will not stop fighting until he is gone, the rebel siege of Tripoli would have tested Col. Qaddafi’s fate as the Libyan leader.

A senior United States official said on Saturday that the opposition must prepare to take over power soon. Reuters reported.

More than 30 nations have now recognized the rebels’ National Transitional Council (NTC) as Libya’s legitimate authority; the US is among these countries.

“It is clear that the situation is moving against Gaddafi,” US assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman told a news conference after meeting Libyan rebel leaders at their headquarters in Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi.

“The opposition continues to make substantial gains on the ground while his forces grow weaker.”

In his announcement, government spokesperson Moussa Ibrahim also said on Libyan state TV the rebels that entered Tripoli on Satruday night will be “pardoned if they surrender,” adding a message to the Libyan audience: “Qaddafi is your leader,” suggesting that the rebel advance on Tripoli has not shaken the regime.

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