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Rebels Overtake Most of Tripoli

August 22, 2011

Heavy clashes broke out near Muammar al-Qaddafi’s compound in Tripoli Monday as rebels fought to overtake the remaining areas controlled by forces loyal to the Libyan leader.

Rebel spokesman Mohammed Abdel-Rahman says that tanks emerged from the complex, known as Bab al-Aziziya, early Monday and began firing.

An Associated Press reporter at the nearby Rixos Hotel where foreign journalists are staying could hear gunfire and loud explosions that have been going on for more than 30 minutes.No further details were immediately available on the fighting.

The rebels raced into Tripoli Sunday and met little resistance as Qaddafi’s defenders melted away and his 42-year rule rapidly crumbled. The euphoric fighters celebrated with residents of the capital in Green Square, the symbolic heart of the regime.

By Monday morning, a rebel spokesman told Al Jazeera that Qaddafi loyalists only controlled between 15 and 20 percent of the city, Reuters reported.

Abdel-Rahman says that Qaddafi troops remain a threat to rebels advanced into the city Sunday, and that as long as Qaddafi remains on the run the “danger is still there.”

Associated Press reporters with the rebels said they reached the Tripoli suburb of Janzour around nightfall Sunday. They were greeted by civilians lining the streets and waving rebel flags.

Qaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, was captured by rebel forces as they overtook the city. Al-Islam faces charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands. Another son was under house arrest.

“It’s over, frizz-head,” chanted hundreds of jubilant men and women massed in Green Square, using a mocking nickname of the curly-haired Qaddafi. The revelers fired shots in the air, clapped and waved the rebels’ tricolor flag. Some set fire to the green flag of Qaddafi’s regime and shot holes in a poster with the leader’s image.

By the early hours of Monday, rebels controlled large parts of the capital. They set up checkpoints alongside residents — many of them secretly armed by rebel smugglers in recent weeks. But pockets of pro-Qaddafi fighters remained: In one area, Associated Press reporters with the rebels were stopped and told to take a different route because of regime snipers nearby.

“We were waiting for the signal and it happened,” Nour Eddin Shatouni said. Shatouni is a 50-year-old engineer who was among the residents who flowed out of their homes to join the celebrations.

Mukhtar Lahab, a rebel commander closing in on Tripoli and a former captain in Qaddafi’s army, said relatives inside the capital reported mass protests in four neighborhoods known to be sympathetic to the opposition: Fashlum, Souk al-Jouma, Tajoura and Janzour. He said mosques there were rallying residents with chants of “Allahu Akbar” or “God is great,” broadcast on loudspeakers.

Snipers on high buildings were firing on protesters in at least one of the four neighborhoods, said Lahab. Residents contacted in the city by telephone also reported snipers firing on civilians.

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.

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