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Terrorism & Security

Libyan rebels begin battle for Tripoli [VIDEO]

A rebel surge on Tripoli comes as more senior aides to Col. Qaddafi appear to have defected.

By Correspondent / August 21, 2011

People celebrate the recent news of uprising in Tripoli against Moammar Gadhafi's regime, at the rebel-held town of Benghazi, Libya, early Sunday. Libyan rebels said they launched their first attack on Tripoli in coordination with NATO late Saturday.

Alexandre Meneghini/AP

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Libyan rebels appear to have launched the battle for Tripoli Saturday. Heavy fighting and NATO bombing was reported overnight in the Libyan capital, even as rebels fighting the forces of embattled Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi pushed closer to Tripoli Sunday and now say they are only 20 miles away.

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The rebel surge to take Tripoli comes as more senior aides to Col. Qaddafi appear to have defected. As the rebels gain momentum, Qaddafi’s days appear numbered. But Qaddafi’s forces are fighting back fiercely, and it is unclear how long the battle for the capital will last.

Residents in Tripoli reported loud booms overnight as NATO warplanes flew overhead, and explosions and sustained gunfire in some areas of the capital, though the city had returned to relative calm by Sunday morning. Some reported that Muslim clerics had called for residents to rise up and fight from their mosque loudspeakers after residents broke the Ramadan fast. Though gunfire has been common in the city, CNN reports that it was more intense than usual Saturday night.

Rebel leader Anwar Fekini from Libya’s western mountains told the New York Times that the rebels had coordinated attacks inside the city. They have long claimed to have forces ready and waiting to rise up inside Tripoli. Some residents told the Times that rebels had sneaked into the city from the east, tricking Qaddafi’s troops who had prepared for a rebel onslaught from the direction of Zawiyah, to the west. But the BBC reports that the fighting was likely carried out by rebel elements already in Tripoli. According to the BBC, the most intense gunfire came at around 11 pm Saturday, and the city was relatively quiet by Sunday morning.

Qaddafi’s government denied that rebels were threatening the regime's power in Tripoli, and state television broadcast a live audio feed of Qaddafi in the early morning hours Sunday, in which he called the rebels “rats” and said his forces had eliminated them.

Qaddafi government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim blamed fighting in the capital on “small armed gangs.”

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