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Libyan rebel morale spikes after week of gains

Libyan rebels saw significant progress on both the military and diplomatic front in recent days, even as Qaddafi's regime disparaged their efforts.

By Staff writer / May 13, 2011

Asha Morshi makes the v-for-victory sign while holding the Holy Koran during Friday prayers in Benghazi, Libya, May 13.

Rodrigo Abd/AP

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Istanbul, Turkey

Pressure is mounting on the regime of Col. Muammar Qaddafi as rebels report a string of both military and diplomatic gains and NATO sharpens its airstrikes.

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"Probably not since the defection of [former Foreign Minister Moussa] Koussa has morale so acutely increased," says an opposition activist in the Libyan capital who could not be named for security reasons.

Blasts from two NATO attacks were heard in Tripoli on Friday morning, after 52 reported missions by NATO aircraft across Libya on Thursday – the latest in a string of attacks that have sometimes come very close to Colonel Qaddafi.

Protesters are increasingly taking to the streets of Tripoli – in some places launching armed attacks against Libya security forces, rebel sources there say. Antiregime fighters this week expanded their control in the western city of Misurata to include the airport; repelled an assault by pro-Qaddafi troops on Libya's western border; and marched toward the eastern oil town of Brega.

On Friday, the leader of the rebels' Transitional National Council, Mahmoud Jibril, was due to meet with top US national security officials at the White House, as the rebel council based in Libya’s second city of Benghazi called for more protests.

In London, the rebel delegation met Thursday with British Prime Minister David Cameron, who rolled out the red carpet and invited them to set up an office in London. He promised uniforms and body armor for police, and several millions in aid, but that was less than they were expecting.

Rebels' rising spirits

Still, after three months of fighting that has seen front lines fluctuate and outgunned and disorganized rebel forces often unable to make concrete and defendable gains, the series of recent events has prompted optimism among the resistance.

"The gains in Misurata have been so effective at raising spirits because it is very close to [Tripoli]," the opposition activist in the capital told the Monitor. "It's not associated with our desire or expectation to have [Misurata rebels] come and 'liberate us' but rather a significant indication of the regime's inability to regain ... ground so close to the stronghold of Tripoli."

And already there has been a boost in defiance in the streets, which has been episodic, at best, since anti-Qaddafi protests first erupted in mid-February, burning symbols of the regime.

Civil disobedience was planned for after Friday prayers, according to the rebel activist. He cited a rise in "mini protests ... more [rebel] flags being raised in different areas of the city," more graffiti and "armed groups engaging in attacks more often and more potently."

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On Thursday in the district of Fashloum, this activist says, the headquarters building of a local Revolutionary Committee was burned – just as similar offices had been torched in February. Stepped-up raids in his neighborhood prompted people to go to their rooftops, clap, and shout 'Allahu Akbar!' – God is great.

All these events "contribute to the realization that day by day this regime is getting weaker and weaker," says the opposition activist. "This realization is manifesting [itself] in increased activity in Tripoli, be it peaceful civil disobedience or armed resistance to security."

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