Libya rebels cut all fuel pipelines to Tripoli: reports
Libya's leader Muammar Qaddafi appears to be running out of options as rebels close in on Tripoli, but an end to his regime could still be a long way off.
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Libya rebels are tightening the noose on Tripoli, the stronghold of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, who could soon be forced to choose between stepping down or making a final stand by defending his capital. But while rebels have considerable momentum, a fight for Tripoli could well be protracted – and rebel gains have been swiftly reversed in the past.
The Associated Press described the rebels' current position as "the strongest position to attack [Qaddafi's] stronghold since the 6-month-old civil war began." As of Monday, the rebels were fighting for control of refineries and were reportedly in control of Tripoli's key supply routes and oil pipelines, with the ability to completely isolate the capital.
Desperation was evident: Tripoli residents streamed out of the capital city by car to the western mountains, while in the east Qaddafi's forces fired a Scud missile for the first time. It fell 50 miles short of the oil town of Brega, its likely target.
Rebels claim to have cut off all four pipelines that transport gasoline and diesel to Tripoli. They also claim to be on the verge of cutting the city off from the two remaining supply routes (critical for the city because of the NATO-imposed no-fly zone), although neither assertion could be confirmed, the AP reports. Monitor reporter Dan Murphy noted yesterday that the supply line from Tripoli to Tunisia is critical to Qaddafi's survival.
The gains have prompted a flurry of rumors about Qaddafi seeking an exit strategy and accelerated talks with rebel representatives. While it doesn't appear that a negotiated end to the fighting is at hand – and Qaddafi was his usual defiant and threatening self in an audiotape broadcast yesterday – if his forces can't open a route between the capital and Tunisia, the end of his rule becomes a matter of when, not if.
Gaddafi will throw all the men and weapons he has left into a defence of the capital, civilian casualties in urban fighting will be high, and sections of the population in Tripoli are likely to oppose the rebels.
Even if Gaddafi's opponents were able to win that fight, the bloodshed would create grievances and vendettas which could make the capital -- and maybe even the country -- ungovernable.