Libyan rebels seized most of the capital, swiped control of state television, battled Moammar Gaddafi’s forces and had three of his sons in custody Monday, as their efforts converged on one task that could bring an end to their civil war – and to 42 years of rule: the apprehension of Gaddafi himself.
“The real moment of victory is when Gaddafi is captured,” NTC chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil said at a news conference in Benghazi, long a rebel stronghold in the conflict. (CNN)
The U.S. government said it believes Gaddafi remains in Libya. “We believe he’s still in the country,” Pentagon spokesman Col. David Lapan said Monday. “We do not have information he left the country.” (CNN)
U.N. officials have “been trying to get in touch with him,” said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The U.N. chief described events in Tripoli as “testimony to the courage and determination of the Libyan people to seek a free and democratic future.” (CNN)
But even as official control of their country seemed to be within reach, the rebels were engaged in fierce battles for parts of Tripoli. “A great majority of the capital of Tripoli is under freedom fighters’ control,” said Guma El-Gamaty, the Britain-based coordinator for the rebels’ National Transitional Council. (CNN)
At the Rixos hotel where international journalists are staying, close to Gaddafi’s compound, intense fighting could be heard Monday afternoon. Sporadic gunfire and explosions coming from the direction of Gaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziya compound could be heard Monday morning. Much of Bab al-Aziziya has already been destroyed by NATO airstrikes, and a fight for the compound might be more symbolic in nature.
“We are bracing ourselves for another night of intense street fighting,” a Tripoli resident told the BBC. “I think Gaddafi security forces will resort to guerrilla warfare because they know they do not have the support of the people.” (BBC)
But another resident said rebel fighters were “breaking into people’s houses, stealing everything,” adding that the rebel assault would be “a disaster for Libya and NATO.” (BBC)
As fighting continued in Tripoli, residents tried to stay safe. “We cannot feel peace, we cannot feel victory, until we see Gaddafi captured,” said Saud Shariff, a professor at Tripoli’s Libyan University, who spent the night in her home. “After Gaddafi is captured… [the people who are following him] will believe this is the end.” (CBC)
Rebels on Monday afternoon pulled back from an area near Tripoli’s Green Square – which rebels are renaming Martyr’s Square – to coordinate some sort of offensive in the city, although it was not immediately clear what they were planning. In parts of the city, rebels were concerned about snipers on top of buildings.
U.S. and NATO officials said they were concerned forces loyal to Gaddafi might stage a last-ditch attack against civilians. “If there is a last-ditch effort we want to protect civilians,” said a senior NATO official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of sensitive intelligence matters. (CNN) Senior levels of NATO were watching closely for any sign of a massing of Libyan government forces, or moving of weapons such as rockets or artillery, the official said. The U.S. official warned that Gaddafi still may be able “to issue orders” to his troops through limited communications, although its unclear how much he controls. (CNN) It was also unclear what may happen to Gaddafi’s sons in rebel custody, as well as to the leader himself if he is captured. The International Criminal Court has warrants for the arrests of Gaddafi and one of his sons, Saif al-Islam, as well as Abdullah al-Senussi, the head of military intelligence.
The court’s chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, spoke Monday with members of the National Transitional Council about efforts to safeguard the civilian population in Libya. Further conversations will discuss the possibility of surrendering the three men, the court said in a news release.
The rebels on Monday also arrested Hala Misrati, an anchor from Libya’s state-run television. Misrati had a brandished gun on air over the weekend and said that staffers at the television station were prepared to be martyrs. “With this weapon, I either kill or die today,” she said Sunday. (CNN) Rebels said they found her in her car near a coffee shop Monday. Pandemonium ensued when word got out that Misrati had been arrested. Witnesses said Misrati was unharmed but would not be speaking to media. A cordon of soldiers quickly formed to isolate her from media representatives, other rebels and gawkers. Rebel TV later reported that it had taken control of state TV, which had gone black.
Gaddafi’s forces in Tajoura, on the eastern outskirts of Tripoli, where a hospital is located, were negotiating their surrender Monday morning, according to Jumma Ibrahim, a rebel military spokesman.
In Zawiya – a key coastal city that appeared to be under rebel control – residents celebrated by firing guns in the air, setting off fireworks and chanting, “Libya is free!” And in Benghazi, one resident called the rebel gains as joyous as “New Year’s Day.” (CNN)
Elsewhere, rebel units have been deployed to a northern coastal highway – a main thoroughfare to Tunisia – “to get rid of one of the last Gaddafi forces positioned in the northern coastal stretch,” said Jamal Kor, a rebel field commander. Kor said rebels hope the entire coastal stretch between Ras Ajdir, Tunisia and Tripoli “will be in rebel hands” by Monday afternoon. “We have tried to persuade Gaddafi forces to surrender, but to no avail,” Kor said. (CNN) Confident that victory was close, the rebel government began making plans to govern.
El-Gamaty told CNN Monday that it will take 18 to 20 months to create a political framework for a new Libyan government. Though fighting in Tripoli continued, “Libya is under the control of the TNC,” said Ali Suleiman Aujali, the rebel government’s ambassador to the United States. Aujali added that Gaddafi brigades have raised the white flag in the key town of al-Brega. CNN could not independently confirm his claim.
NATO, operating under a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force to protect Libyan civilians, has conducted more than 7,500 strike sorties in Libya since NATO began the military operation in March.
Libyans seeking Gaddafi’s ouster rejoiced Sunday after news that two of the ruler’s sons – Saif al-Islam and Saadi – had been arrested by opposition forces.
On Monday, a third Gaddafi son, Mohammed, was also taken into custody. A man identified as Mohammed Gaddafi told Al Jazeera during a live telephone interview early Monday that rebels had entered his home. “I’m being attacked right now. This is gunfire inside my house. They are inside my house,” he told Al Jazeera. (CNN)
As for Gaddafi’s other four sons, El-Gamaty said, “we think they are either hiding or they have run away.” (CNN)
On Sunday, Gaddafi took the airwaves several times urging citizens, including women, to fight the rebels – whom he called “very small groups of people who are collaborators with the imperialists.” “Get out and lead, lead, lead the people to paradise,” he said. (CNN) “How come you allow Tripoli, the capital, to be under occupation once again?” he asked. “The traitors are paving the way for the occupation forces to be deployed in Tripoli.” (BBC)
Libyan government spokesman Musa Ibrahim told reporters late Sunday night that about 1,300 people had been killed and about 5,000 wounded in fighting in the previous 12 hours. “(The city) is being turned into a hellfire,” he said from Tripoli. “Every drop of Libyan blood shed by these rebels is the responsibility of the western world, especially NATO’s countries.” (CNN)
NATO Secretary-General Andres Fogh Rasmmussen said the Gaddafi regime is “clearly crumbling.” “The sooner Gaddafi realizes that he cannot win the battle against his own people, the better – so that the Libyan people can be spared further bloodshed and suffering,” Rasmussen said in a statement on Monday. (CNN)
If the Gaddafi regime falls, it would follow revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt this year in what is known as the Arab Spring. A spate of other countries in the region – including Bahrain, Yemen and Syria – have also seen protests by citizens demanding more freedom and a change in regime. In many cases, these demonstrations have been met with brute force.
U.S. President Barack Obama said Sunday night the momentum against Gaddafi’s regime has reached a tipping point. “Tripoli is slipping from the grasp of a tyrant,” Obama said. “The surest way for the bloodshed to end is simple: Moammar Gaddafi and his regime need to recognize that their rule has come to an end.” (CNN)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper told reporters in Ottawa on Monday that last march, when Canada made the decision to participate in the NATO mission under the leadership of the U.N., the aim was to protect Libyans against the deadly Gaddafi regime. “Today, Canada pays tribute to the news of the beginning of the fall of the Gaddafi regime,” Harper said. “We hope that the transfer of power to the National Transition Council in Libya will also be carried out peacefully. Libyans have expected this for a long time now. They wish to be freed of the violent, barbaric regime of Gaddafi.” Harper added that Canada’s military personnel will remain in Libya, and “we will be consulting our allies as to the next stage.” (CBC)
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron called on Gaddafi to unconditionally cease fighting. Cameron also called on the Libyan rebels to respect human rights and to avoid reprisals, and said frozen assets belonging to the Libyan people would soon be released.
A European Union spokesperson said sanctions against the Libya government would remain in place for now, but that the EU was prepared to drop them quickly. “As soon as we judge that the time is right to help the population, we will change them,” EU spokesman Michael Mann said. (CBC)
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini echoed Cameron’s call for Gaddafi to give up. “The time is up,” Frattini said. “There is no alternative to surrendering and handing himself in to justice.” (CBC)