Libya rebels control '95 percent' of Tripoli, but Qaddafi loyalists vow to fight

As Libya rebels assumed control of most of Tripoli, Qaddafi's spokesman said 'thousands and thousands' of fighters were on their way to Tripoli to join the fight.

By , Staff writer

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    Libyan rebel fighters in Tripoli deface a portrait of dictator Muammar Qaddafi Monday. Rebels claim to control most of the Libyan capital after their lightning advance on Tripoli heralded the fall of Qaddafi's nearly 42-year regime, but scattered battles continue and the Qaddafi's whereabouts remain unknown.
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The Libyan rebels say they have gained control of 95 percent of Tripoli, one of the last holdouts of Col. Muammar Qaddafi's regime, capping a stunning week of gains.

Two of Qaddafi's sons are in rebel custody, including the politically powerful Saif al-Islam, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court on war-crimes charges, Al Jazeera reports.

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But Qaddafi loyalists are refusing to surrender, potentially prolonging the victory that rebels and their supporters celebrated with a deafening street party in the capital last night. (For an excellent map of the rebel advances and extent of control, click here – thanks to BusinessInsider.com.)

"We will fight," vowed government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim, who said that there were "thousands and thousands" of fighters on their way to help the loyalists. "We have whole cities on our sides. They are coming en masse to protect Tripoli to join the fight."

Indeed, while rebels are exulting in their capture of most of the capital, they still face significant hurdles to taking full control of the country, the Wall Street Journal reports from Tripoli.

At one point early Monday, at an overpass near the city's Gargaresh neighborhood, rebels beat a panicked retreat when word spread of a possible counterattack. That attack didn't occur, but the city remained on edge as explosions echoed in the distance and rebels urged reporters not to linger at Green Square.

If Col. Gadhafi falls, it will pose fresh challenges for rebel forces, who have put aside longstanding ideological, regional and tribal differences to face a common enemy. Those differences are likely to be more pronounced once the strongman who has ruled the country for nearly 42 years is no longer in the picture and rebels struggle to rebuild their state. Further complicating their efforts to govern a post-Gadhafi Libya will be the presence of numerous independent armed groups with different loyalties and who may have different visions for Libya.

Government tanks made a last stand this morning at the Bab al-Aziziya compound, where Qaddafi, his family, and inner circle had barricaded themselves during the uprising. The tanks opened fire on rebel troops as they attempted to enter the compound, the Associated Press reports. Eyewitnesses said NATO appeared to have demolished the compound, but the precise outcome of the battle remains unclear and Qaddafi's own whereabouts are unknown.

Rebels set up checkpoints and barricades throughout the city to solidify their control, as loyalists fought fiercely to keep their hold on the small pockets that remain in their hands.

Among those pockets is the Rixos, the hotel where the Libyan government has been sequestering all foreign journalists. Al Jazeera reports that Qaddafi loyalists are using the journalists to deter a rebel attack on the hotel.

"Qaddafi sleeper cells" in Tripoli, armed with heavy weapons and including many snipers, are the rebels' biggest remaining challenge, Al Jazeera reports.

The clashes between rebels and those pockets of Qaddafi loyalists sent Tripoli residents back into their homes Monday after spending Sunday night and the early hours of Monday in the streets, celebrating what they saw as Qaddafi's imminent end, Reuters reports. In Green Square, where protesters were killed in the earliest days of the uprising, rebel supporters burned government flags and flew the tricolor flag last used by the monarchy that Qaddafi overthrew in 1969, when his rule began.

Rebel supporters in Tripoli, silent for months, emerged as the rebels took control of their neighborhoods. The Army battalion in charge of guarding entrances to the city surrendered immediately when rebels reached the city gates, AP reports. The commander of the battalion was a covert rebel supporter because Qaddafi's regime killed his brother years ago.

Qaddafi's hometown of Sirte, which is filled with fiercely loyal Libyans, is one of the few cities that remain in the hands of Qaddafi loyalists. But while this appears to be the endgame for Qaddafi, those who know him best expect him to fight to the end.

"I think it's impossible that he'll surrender," said Abdel-Salem Jalloud, a former close aid to Qaddafi who defected to Italy last week.

Still, as rebels negotiate with the ICC to have Saif al-Islam handed over to The Hague and vow to bring his father to justice as well, Libyans are already celebrating their freedom from more than four decades of authoritarian rule.

"It's amazing. It's been six months of hell, but now we feel free," Nez Badrush, a resident of western Tripoli, told the Wall Street Journal. "God bless you, the United States and NATO for helping us."

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