libya- (wrapup 8, tv, pix)-0821-08
* Heavy fighting overnight in Tripoli districts
* Rebel force says is now within about 20 km of Tripoli
* Gaddafi government says determined to fight on
* Question marks linger over rebel cohesion
(Changes dateline pvs TRIPOLI, updates throughout)
By Ulf Laessing
JADDAIM, Libya Aug 21 (Reuters) - Libyan rebels battled
their way towards Tripoli on Sunday to help fighters inside the
city who rose up overnight declaring a final showdown with
The Libyan leader dismissed the rebels, fighting since
February to topple him, as "rats" and said he would not yield.
In a coordinated revolt that rebel cells had been secretly
preparing for months, shooting started on Saturday night across
Tripoli moments after Muslim clerics, using the louspeakers on
mosque minarets, called people on to the streets.
The fighting inside Tripoli, combined with rebel advances to
the outskirts of the city, appeared to signal the decisive phase
in a six month conflict that has become the bloodiest of the
"Arab Spring" uprisings and embroiled NATO powers.
But Gaddafi's fall is far from certain. His security forces
did not buckle, the rebels appeared to control only a few
neighbourhoods of Tripoli and the city is much bigger than
anything the mosly amateur anti-Gaddafi fighters, with their
scavenged weapons and mismatched uniforms, have ever tackled.
If the Libyan leader is forced from power, there are
question marks over whether the opposition can restore stability
in this oil exporting country. The rebels' own ranks have been
wracked by disputes and rivalry.
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Rebels said that after a night of heavy fighting, they
controlled a handful of city neighbourhoods. But whether they
hold on could depend on the speed with which the rebels
elsewhere reach Tripoli.
"The rebels may have risen too early in Tripoli and the
result could be a lot of messy fighting," said Oliver Miles, a
former British ambassador to Libya. "The regime may not have
collapsed in the city to quite the extent they think it has."
ADVANCE ON TRIPOLI
The closest front line was to the west of the capital, along
a highway that traces the edge of the Mediterranean Sea.
Rebel fighters returning from the front line said they they
had taken the town of Jaddaim and that they were now about 20 km
from Tripoli and approaching the city's outlying western suburb
A Reuters reporter near the front said he could hear shells
landing, and could see columns of smoke. Ambulances rushed back
from the front to a hospital in the nearby town of Zawiyah.
In Jaddaim, fighters were celebrating the advance, shouting
"Allahu Akbar!" or "God is greatest!."
In Benghazi, the eastern Libyan city where the anti-Gaddafi
revolt started and where the rebels have their main stronghold,
a senior official said everything was going according to plan.
"Our revolutionaries are controlling several neighbourhoods
and others are coming in from outside the city to join their
brothers at this time," Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, vice-chairman of the
rebel National Transition Council, told Reuters.
MESSAGE OF DEFIANCE
In an audio recording broadcast late on Saturday, Gaddafi --
whose location has been kept a secret since NATO warplanes
started bombing government buildings -- made clear he had no
intention of giving in to the rebels.
"Those rats ... were attacked by the masses tonight and we
eliminated them," Gaddafi said. "I know that there are air
bombardments but the fireworks were louder than the sound of the
bombs thrown by the aircraft."
A spokesman for Gaddafi, in a briefing for foreign
reporters, underlined the message of defiance.
The armed units defending Tripoli from the rebels
"wholeheartedly believe that if this city is captured the blood
will run everywhere so they may as well fight to the end," said
the spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim.
"We hold Mr Obama, Mr Cameron and Mr Sarkozy morally
responsible for every single unnecessary death that takes place
in this country," he said, referring to the leaders of the
United States, Britain and France.
SNIPERS ON ROOFTOPS
A diplomatic source in Paris, where the government has
closely backed the rebels, said underground rebel cells in the
capital had been following detailed plans drawn up months ago
and had been waiting for a signal to act.
That signal was "iftar" -- the moment when Muslims
observing the holy months of Ramadan break their daily fast. It
was at this moment that imams started broadcasting their message
from the moques, residents said.
But the overnight fighting inside the city, while
fierce, was not decisive. Rebels said they controlled all or
parts of the Tajourah, Fashloom and Souk al-Jumaa neighourhoods
but there was no city-wide rebellion.
In Tripoli on Sunday , the two sides appeared to be
jockeying for control of rooftop terraces where they could place
firing positions, possibly in preparation for a new burst of
fighting after nightfall.
A rebel activist in the city said pro-Gaddafi forces had put
snipers on the rooftops of buildings around Bab al-Aziziyah,
Gaddafi's compound, and on the top of a nearby water tower.
As he spoke, single gunshots could be heard in the
background, at intervals of a few seconds.
"Gaddafi's forces are getting reinforcements to comb
the capital," said the activist, who spoke to a Reuters reporter
"Residents are crying, seeking help. One resident was
martyred, many were wounded," he said. It was not immediately
possible to verify his account independently.
State television flashed up a message on the screen
urging residents not to allow rebel gunmen to hide out on their
"Agents and al Qaeda members are trying to destabilise
and sabotage the city. You should prevent them from exploiting
your houses and buildings, confront them and cooperate with
counter-terrorism units, to capture them," it said.
Western governments were cautious about predicting
Gaddafi's imminent fall, but they said he was under
"It's been clear that Gaddafi has not had a firm grip
on reality -- as we heard from his comments last night -- and
has not been interested personally in leaving or negotiating,"
said Alastair Burt, a foreign office minister.
"But those around him have continued to defect ... That
pressure indicates that those around Gaddafi know what's going
on. One can only hope that they're getting messages through to
him," Burt told the BBC.
Ashour Shamis, a UK-based opposition editor and activist,
said the Libyan leader's options were dwindling.
"Gaddafi's chances for a safe exit are diminishing by the
hour. The more he stays the narrower his base, and the easier it
will be for him to be caught or killed," Ashour "I think he's
not being told the whole picture. (His son) Saif al-Islam is the
one who is leading the fight for him."
(Additional reporting by Missy Ryan in Tripoli, Robert Birsel
in Benghazi, Libya, William Maclean in London, Hamid Ould Ahmed
in Algiers; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Ralph Boulton)