Share It!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Rebels claim to take 'revolution' inside Tripoli, clashes reported

Libyan rebels have taken their fight inside Tripoli, home to embattled leader Moammar Gadhafi, a rebel spokesman said late Saturday.

"The revolution from inside Tripoli has officially started (Saturday) evening in many parts ... of Tripoli, and is expected to spread to all of Tripoli," said Jumma Ibrahim, a rebel spokesman from the western mountain region around Zintan.

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

Gunfire and explosions have become normal occurrences in Tripoli, but CNN personnel on the ground for weeks report that the fighting appeared to be among the most intense yet.

"Most of the neighhoods in Tripoli are rising up," Jumma Ibrahim said.

But speaking a short time later, just before midnight in Tripoli, government spokesman Musa Ibrahim insisted that all is safe and well. He said that the Libyan capital remains under government control, adding that the nearby highways remain open.

"They lie to you about the absence of security in Tripoli," the government spokesman said. "Tripoli is safe and in excellent condition."

He blamed small groups of "armed gangs" -- a term that Gadhafi loyalists have frequently applied to rebels -- for the blasts and gunfire heard overnight Saturday inside Tripoli. He insisted that government forces had put down the fighters "within half an hour," making the statement at the same time gunfire continued to crackle intermittently around the capital.

The rebel spokesman, Jumma Ibrahim, claimed opposition fighters control the main intelligence operations building in Tripoli. He also said some Libyan army personnel had defected and joined the rebels in the vicinity of the capital's airport, which he claimed the rebels were able to take over with their newfound support.

Musa Ibrahim, the government spokesman, denied that the airport had switched hands -- insisting, as with the rest of Tripoli, it was safe and under the control of Gadhafi's forces.

Further illustrating the contrast of perspectives, rebel fighters around Zawiya loudly celebrated what they viewed as the new offensive in Tripoli on Saturday night, at the same time video on state-run TV showed throngs listening to music and voicing support for Gadhafi in Tripoli's Green Square.

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

Jumma Ibrahim, the rebel spokesman, said the clashes in Tripoli were "planned by rebels inside Tripoli in the neighborhoods of Fashloum, Souq al-Juma, Ben Ashur ... and other places."

Musa Ibrahim confirmed that armed men had entered those three neighborhoods in the capital, but said they were confronted and defeated in a matter of minutes.

Hours earlier, Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim rejected rebel claims that Gadhafi is seeking refuge for his family, insisting neither the leader nor his wife and children plan to leave the country. This counters rebel reports that the governments of Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria have been asked to accept the family.

Officials from the U.S. and NATO -- whose forces have launched scores of strikes on Gadhafi's forces, officially to prevent them from harming civilians -- also said they have no indication Gadhafi is making preparations to leave.

Abdel Monem al-Houni, a representative of the Transitional National Council in Cairo, told CNN he was informed about the request by the Arab governments who received it.

Whatever his next move, international pressure on Gadhafi appears to be growing. Tunisia -- Libya's western neighbor that, until now, had been neutral in the conflict -- joined a host of other nations in recognizing the Transitional National Council as Libya's legitimate government.

All these reports come as a U.S. official said Gadhafi might be preparing for a "last stand" in Tripoli as a months-long NATO air campaign continues amid reports of rebel advances.

A second U.S. official said the longtime leader's plan could involve a final military offensive against civilians, launched from his last major strongholds around the Libyan capital.

The officials, who have knowledge of the situation on the ground, did not want to be named because of the sensitive intelligence matters.

Days earlier, in an address on state TV, the Libyan leader urged supporters to take up arms and battle rebel forces.

"Move always forward to the challenge; pick up your weapons; go to the fight in order to liberate Libya inch by inch from the traitors and from NATO. Be prepared to fight if they hit the ground," Gadhafi said.

Both U.S. officials emphasized that if a final push by Gadhafi happens, the United States doesn't have a clear idea what form it could take.

However, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Friday that U.S. officials in Benghazi have been working with the Libyan opposition "on exactly what it's going to look like post-Gadhafi."

"Impossible to say when he'll go, but it's clear that he will go," Toner told CNN.

Also on Friday, opposition forces said a former Libyan prime minister has left Tripoli and joined with rebels in the country's western mountains.

Abdel Salam Jalloud "is in Zintan and he is a free man among the rebels," said Jumma Ibrahim, a spokesman for the Military Council of the Western Mountain Region, a rebel group.

Kaim declined to confirm or deny the report.

Jalloud was among members of Gadhafi's inner-circle responsible for the 1969 coup that put Gadhafi into power. Jalloud fell out of favor with the regime in the mid-1990s.

The fighting continues, meanwhile, on a number of fronts, including in the west, where fighting has raged for days over the strategic city of Zawiya, about 30 miles west of Tripoli and a major supply route to the capital.

On Saturday, it appeared the rebels had taken control of all of Zawiya after pushing Gadhafi's forces beyond the east gate, according to CNN's Sara Sidner who is in the city. Artillery fire could be heard, and mortars were launched toward Zawiya on Saturday, she reported. Rebel fighters told Sidner that NATO had warned civilians to leave the main part of the city. NATO has not yet commented on that statement.

Musa Ibrahim, the Libyan government spokesman, said late Saturday that Gadhafi's forces are surrounding Zawiya and still control it.

Earlier, the rebels seized a major oil refinery in Zawiya and controlled only the western part of the city, said Hobab Jomaa, a rebel fighter.

CNN's Matthew Chance, Sara Sidner, Kareem Khadder, Ben Wedeman, Barbara Starr and Yasmin Amer contributed to this report.

No comments: