TRIPOLI — Large anti-regime protests erupted yesterday in several Tripoli neighbourhoods where thousands braved the bullets of snipers perched atop high buildings, residents and opposition fighters said.
At the same time, hundreds of rebel forces advanced to within 24,14km west of the capital and were rushing forward in pick-up trucks and on foot.
Heavy machine gun fire and explosions rang out across many parts of Tripoli on the second day of attacks by rebels from what the opposition called “sleeping cells” inside the city that has been Muammar Gaddafi’s stronghold throughout the six-month-old civil war.
Mukhtar Lahab, a rebel commander closing in on Tripoli and a former captain in Gaddafi’s army, said his relatives inside the capital reported mass protests in four neighbourhoods known as sympathetic to the opposition: Fashlum, Souk al-Jouma, Tajoura and Janzour. He said mosques there were rallying residents with chants of “Allahu Akbar” or “God is great,” broadcast on loudspeakers.
Snipers loyal to Gaddafi on high buildings were firing on protesters in at least one of the four restive neighbourhoods, said Lahab. Residents contacted in the city by telephone also reported snipers firing on civilians.
Hundreds of rebels were also advancing rapidly towards Tripoli from the west and the south. Those in the west moved beyond the village of Jedaim to within 24,14km of Tripoli, according to an Associated Press reporter with them at the front.
Rebel Murad Dabdoub told The Associated Press that Gaddafi’s forces were pounding rebel positions west of the city with rockets, mortars and anti-aircraft fire.
“We are not going back. God willing, this evening we will enter Tripoli,” said Issam Wallani, another rebel. He spoke from Jedaim, which has been turned into the staging area for fighters moving towards the capital.
He spoke as pick-up trucks loaded with fighters headed to the front and the thud of mortar shells was heard at two-minute intervals. A Tripoli resident said the capital was virtually deserted yesterday, with stores shuttered and no cars or pedestrians out on the streets.
Some areas suffered power outages, according to the resident, who was reached by telephone and would only identify himself by one name, al-Tarhouni. “There are thousands and thousands of soldiers who are willing to defend the city,” Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim told a news conference in Tripoli. – AFP