Rebels overran Muammar Qaddafi’s fortified Bab al Azizya headquarters in Tripoli after heavy fighting on Tuesday as a senior diplomat predicted that the entire country would be under rebel control within three days.
The rebels immediately hoisted their flag to mark the symbolic end to the strongman’s 42-year rule. “We expect Libya to be totally liberated and totally calm and peaceful within the next 72 hours,” UN envoy Ibrahim Dabbashi told reporters at Libya’s UN mission in New York.
He said that Qaddafi and other top officials are probably scattered in houses across Tripoli, though they could be in an underground shelter. As rebel leaders proclaimed they had “won the battle” in Tripoli, fighters celebrated by firing automatic weapons into the air and raiding the armoury for ammunition, pistols and rifles.
“We have won the battle,” Abdel Hakim Belhaj, the insurgents’ Tripoli commander told Al Jazeera television from inside the complex. “ “The military battle is over now,” he said.
In Benghazi, where residents poured onto the streets in celebration, commander Colonel Ahmed Omar Bani said there had been no trace of Qaddafi or his family.
“Bab al-Azizya is fully under our control now. Col Qaddafi and his sons were not there; there is nobody,” Bani said. “No one knows where they are.” “They have taken Bab al-Azizya. It is an incredible sight,” he said.
Amid reports that ordinary citizens were beginning to stream into the complex of several acres, rebel television Al Ahrar called on people to stay away so that insurgent fighters could mop up inside. It also urged police in Tripoli to remain at their posts in order to guarantee security.
The fighting for Qaddafi’s headquarters was the most intense in the city since rebel fighters in their hundreds came surging through its gates three days ago.
On the eastern front, the rebels overran the eastern oil hub of Ras Lanuf on the road to Qaddafi’s hometown of Sirte, their military spokesman Colonel Ahmed Omar Bani said.
“We are now in Ras Lanuf,” Bani told AFP, adding he hoped insurgents would soon reach Bin Jawad, a hamlet just east of Sirte and almost halfway between the rebel-held cities of Benghazi and Misrata.
The Russian head of world chess, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, said on Tuesday Qaddafi had told him in a telephone call that he was in Tripoli and did not intend to leave the country.
In Paris, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he had agreed with his US counterpart Barack Obama to continue military action against Qaddafi until he lays down his weapons.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 24th, 2011.