Friday, August 26, 2011

Libyan Patriots Continue to Fight Against NATO-backed Invasion of Tripoli

Kadafi remains defiant as fighting continues in Tripoli

Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi in a TV broadcast called on followers to drive out rebels in the capital

By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times
8:38 PM PDT, August 25, 2011
Reporting from Tripoli

Fierce fighting gripped the Libyan capital Thursday as rebel forces laid siege to a loyalist stronghold and pressed the search for Moammar Kadafi — who sent a message from hiding that urged supporters to march on Tripoli and "purify" the capital of insurgents.

Rebels clashed ferociously with pro-Kadafi forces in the impoverished neighborhood of Abu Salim, a southwestern district of the city that is viewed a stronghold of support for Libya's longtime ruler.

Rebels armed with assault rifles and large-caliber machine guns mounted on pickup trucks opened fire on apartment blocks where gunmen loyal to Kadafi were holed up, mounting a last stand against the rebel advance.

Rebels said they control much of the city, but Abu Salim has been a center of resistance to the insurgent onslaught that began four days ago and that is now poised to end more than four decades of Kadafi rule.

Many residents of Abu Salim are said to be members of the Wurfalla tribe, which threw in its lot with Kadafi in exchange for perks and privileges. Pro-rebel Tripoli residents cheered the insurgent fights as they headed back toward the city center after the heavy fighting.

Kadafi remains in hiding and defiant; the rebels have placed a $2-million bounty on his head.

Meanwhile, U.S. and British authorities gave what appeared to be differing versions of how much the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is actively engaged in the hunt for Kadafi. The issue is a sensitive one because NATO's legal role in the conflict is to protect civilians from Libyan forces, not to target Kadafi.

Marine Col. David Lapan denied that the U.S. is involved in the search for Kadafi. Rather, Lapan said, the military is conducting aerial surveillance of Libya in support of NATO's mission to protect civilians.

However, British Defense Secretary Liam Fox said on Thursday that NATO intelligence and reconnaissance assets are being used to try to find Kadafi.

As rebels attempt to consolidate control in Tripoli, the insurgents are also looking to subdue several loyalist enclaves elsewhere — including Kadafi's hometown, Sirte, about 250 miles from Tripoli. Members of Kadafi's tribe are expected to resist any rebel offensive, said insurgent leaders, who added that they hope a peaceful surrender of the city could be worked out in Sirte and other cities where Kadafi still has backers.

The much-anticipated rebel push into the loyalist bastion of Abu Salim began about 3:30 p.m. with columns of rebel pickup trucks making their way into the heart of the district. Rebels met fierce resistance and responded in force, setting many buildings ablaze and leaving dozens of Kadafi fighters dead, their bodies strewn across roadways and medians.

Mortars and rockets, presumably launched by Kadafi's forces from just outside the city's southwest perimeter, shook the earth, pushing rebels back before they regrouped and advanced.

In a fast-paced battle, rebel fighters stormed warrens of apartment blocks, dodging gunfire and occasionally shooting into the homes of suspected Kadafi loyalists.

Much of the neighborhood appeared to be in ruins or on fire, with huge clouds of black smoke billowing into the air. Medics supplied rebels and journalists with surgical masks to ward off the stench of burning plastic and decomposing bodies. Casualties on both sides appear to have been high, but there were no exact numbers available.

In a short audio broadcast on loyalist television channels Thursday, Kadafi called on his supporters to march on Tripoli and "purify" the capital of rebels, whom he denounced as "rats, crusaders and unbelievers," the usual phrases he employs to describe the insurgent forces.

"Street by street, alleyway by alleyway, house by house," Kadafi said. "The tribes that are outside of Tripoli must march on Tripoli. Each tribe must control its area and stop the enemy setting its foot on this pure land."

Kadafi's forces continued to hammer away with rockets at Tripoli's international airport, now under rebel control, and there were reports of continued fighting between his loyalists and rebel fighters west of the capital along the road to the Tunisian border.

A group of Italian journalists kidnapped by pro-Kadafi forces and held overnight were released Thursday after the loyalists decided to let them go.

Despite the occasional clashes, rebels appear to have bolstered their hold over much of the capital, especially in areas of the city long hostile to Kadafi. In Souk Joumeh, a district near central Tripoli, shops have begun to reopen.

Rebel fighters reduced the number of checkpoints on the streets the city. And volunteers with shovels and pickup trucks were cleaning up mounds of garbage that had accumulated during the days of unrest.

Police stations began to reopen, with security officials elected by local rebel political representatives. An acting police chief in Souk Joumeh said there were few security problems in his district. "There were some instances of robbery, but nothing serious," said Shokri Dernawi, a former domestic security official who joined the rebel cause months ago. "Only 50% of the people even know the police station is open."

But fighting continued in the city's southwest, including the neighborhoods of Abu Salim, Hadba and Salahadin as well as districts along the airport road.

And though some stores had reopened, many people complained of a lack of supplies. A pharmacist said he was running out of blood pressure medicine, insulin and baby formula. Fresh produce was scarce.

The lack of law and order had also led to some looting, mostly of buildings associated with Kadafi, his sons and their associates.

At the United Nations, a deal was reached to release $1.5 billion in frozen Libyan assets in American banks that the U.S. is earmarking for the cash-strapped rebels, who say they urgently need at least $5 billion in frozen assets to pay state salaries, maintain vital services and repair critical oil facilities.

Analysts estimate that as much as $110 billion is frozen in banks worldwide, and several European nations are also seeking to release funds. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi met in Rome with the acting chairman of the rebels' Transitional National Council, Mahmoud Jabril, and promised to provide $500 million to the new government by quickly unfreezing Libyan assets held in Italian banks. Italy, which once ruled Libya, is one of the North African nation's leading trading partners.

Times staff writers Patrick J. McDonnell in Djerba, Tunisia, Henry Chu and Janet Stobart in London, staff writer David S. Cloud in Washington, special correspondent Ryma Marrouch in Tripoli and Times wire services contributed to this report.

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