Friday 19 January 2018

Libya: Rebels take over Gaddafi’s Tripoli compound

A rebel fighter run across the street near Muammar Gaddafi's main compound in the Bab al-Aziziya district in Tripoli. Photo: PA
An explosion is seen near Muammar Gaddafi's main compound in the Bab al-Aziziya district in Tripoli. Photo: PA
Rebel fighters observe the fighting near Muammar Gaddafi's compound. Photo: PA
Getty Images
A rebel fighter is pictured in Tripoli, on August 23, 2011

Amy Willis and Matthew Holehouse

Rebel fighters over ran the heavily fortified Bab al-Aziziya compound where Col Muammar Gaddafi is believed to be hiding and the symbolic last bastion of his 42-year dictatorship.

Libya's ambassador to the UN, Ibrahim Dabbashi, said the compound was "totally in control of the revolutionaries" and that he expects the entire country to be free within 72 hours.

Nato forces were reported to have bombed the compound, although earlier Nato refused to say whether or not it had or would do so.

Pentagon spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan said the United States was monitoring Libya's chemical weapons sites, amid concern in Congress that those weapons could fall into the wrong hands.

Amid speculation that Gaddafi is holed up underground, even with suggestions that he is hiding beneath journalists in the Rixos Hotel, an Irish engineer told Channel 4 News that Gaddafi could have a tunnel system that stretches as far as Tripoli International Airport.

The engineer, identified only as John, an Irish national who fled Libya in February when the uprising reached Tripoli, told Channel 4 News that designs were in place over a year ago to create a subterranean road directly underneath the main highway that leads from the airway to the base and beyond, which could only be used by military vehicles.

"Gaddafi's people wanted the underground road so that military vehicles wouldn't get mixed up in civilian traffic. It also meant that access to and from the airport was easy for top officials when they were in Tripoli," he said.

He said that the company he worked for did not win the contract for the project, and was unsure of whether the project was ever completed.

He added, however, that "given the amount of time that has elapsed, and knowing that the project was seen as a priority, in all likelihood it was built".

Loyalist forces were today staging a defiant and bloody last stand in the Libyan capital as the embattled dictator's son Saif al-Islam also appeared in Tripoli - just days after he was reportedly arrested by anti-government forces.

Television images showed a jubilant and free Saif al-Islam meeting supporters outside a loyalist-held hotel before claiming that forces loyal to his father had "broken the backbone" of the rebel offensive.

He also indicated that Gaddafi remained in the violence-torn capital, stating that the weakening regime remained in control.

Saif al-Islam's unlikely appearance came after British Prime Minister David Cameron and President Obama called on Gaddafi to "relinquish power once and for all".

The leaders shared a late night telephone call during which they discussed plans for a "peaceful transition to democracy".

But they also warned rebels to continue "avoiding civilian casualties" and preside over reforms that were "just and inclusive for all of the people of Libya".

Loyalist forces fought fierce battles as rebels surged into Tripoli from all directions, taking control of large areas of the city.

There were significant casualties after clashes around the dictator's heavily fortified compound.

The head of the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC), Mustafa Abdel Jalil, warned that victory was not yet complete.

But he added: "The youth of Libya have written an epic heroic battle."

Saif al-Islam, who is regarded as Gaddafi's immediate successor, was pictured outside the Hotel Rixos in the early hours of this morning where he spoke to western journalists before driving in a convoy through loyalist strong-holds in the city.

He said the rebels had fallen into a "trap" in Tripoli, adding: "We are going to win, because the people are with us."

Having gained control of much of the capital's streets following their lightning-quick advance over the weekend, rebel fighters were drawn into a dramatic siege at the heavily-fortified Bab al-Azizia compound as well as skirmishes in a number of districts.

Gaddafi, who has not appeared in public for three months, is widely believed to be holed up in Libya, and directing his remaining soldiers and tanks to fire at will on his opponents.

Large explosions, automatic gunfire and rocket propelled grenades could be heard across Tripoli as loyalist forces mount a street-by-street fightback for control of the capital. A Nato spokesman said it is difficult to distinguish which areas are controlled by each side but it is clear the Gaddafi regime has lost control.

- Amy Willis and Matthew Holehouse

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