View Full Version : Going, Going, Gone? The Fall of Libyan Dictator Muammar Gaddafi

22nd August 2011, 12:23 PM
ZAWIYA, Libya Libyan rebels expelled government forces from the strategic western city of Zawiya on Saturday, a major victory for the opposition in their march on Muammar Gaddafi's stronghold of Tripoli.

The territory remaining under the Libyan ruler's control has been shrinking dramatically in the past three weeks, with opposition fighters advancing on the capital, a metropolis of 2 million people, from the west, south and east.


Zawiya, a coastal city just 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of Tripoli, is the biggest prize so far in the rebels' three-week-old offensive.

The rebel presence in Zawiyah cuts off Tripoli's main route to the outside world. Although Gadhafi's forces, determined to retake it, mounted a fierce counter-offensive Friday, the rebels were still in control Saturday and said they expected more fighting.

"Gadhafi will try to take back Zawiyah at any price. He will keep shelling the hospital," said a rebel fighter as he was preparing for midday prayers in the mosque of Bir Hawisa, a nearby village where many civilians are sheltering in safety.

"We will not let that happen. We will fight," he said.

The rebels also claimed to have captured two more towns Zlitan in the west and Brega in the east.

However, later Saturday, rebel military spokesman Col. Ahmed Bani said his troops fell back in Brega, losing the industrial section of the key oil port to Gadhafi's forces.

Brega, home to Libya's second-largest hydrocarbon complex and the place where the country's main oil fields feed into for refining, has repeatedly changed hands in the 6-month-old civil war.

Despite the losses in Brega, the momentum in fighting now appears to have firmly swung in the rebels favor after months of near deadlock. The Libyan opposition also received a political boost Friday with the defection of Abdel-Salam Jalloud, a close associate of Gadhafi who took part in the 1969 coup that brought the Libyan ruler to power.

On Saturday, rebel fighters and pickup trucks poured into Zawiya's main square. Signs of the fierce fighting over the past week were all around: pockmarked and shattered facades of buildings ringing the plaza and bodies of two Gadhafi soldiers lying on the ground.

For more than a week, fighting had focused on two main streets here Omar Mokhtar and Gamal Abdel-Nasser streets with Gadhafi snipers positioned on top of Zawiya's hospital, a bank and a hotel overlooking the main square.

Government forces appeared to have fled those strategic positions and others in the eastern half of the city they still held on Friday. An Associated Press reporter visited those positions all of which are now under rebel control. In the distance, the rumble of shelling could be heard to the east.

Inside Zawiya's hospital, workers from Bangladesh who had been stuck here throughout the fighting, were busy cleaning the ground floor. The dialysis section was up and working, with about a dozen patients hooked up to the machines.

A group of doctors arrived in an ambulance to see their place of work for the first time in months, shouting "Allahu Akhbar," or God is Great, as they pulled up.

The hospital had been under control of Gadhafi's forces since March when regime troops wrested Zawiya from the rebels. "I am very happy to come back to my second house," said Ahmed Abu Gundeel, one of the doctors.

Mohammed Bashir Mansour, 51, one of the patients on dialysis, said he came in on Saturday morning, after hearing Gadhafi's forces had been driven out the night before.

"I feel great," he said, adding that he had come for dialysis only once during this week's fighting, on Monday, and that the Gadhafi fighters allowed him in.

But on the second floor, operating theaters had been badly damaged by a mortar attack and metal slats from the ceiling were strewn on the floor. Water spewed from one of the faucets and a thick layer of soot covered two operating rooms.

Nearly every window in the hotel, banks and government office buildings that line the square had been shattered, and bullet and shrapnel holes marred every wall. The bodies of two Gadhafi fighters lay on the central plaza, with blankets thrown over them and the sidewalk stained red.

Zawiya native Faiz Ibrahim said he was happy to walk freely around the square. The 42-year-old engineer had taken up arms against Gadhafi early on in the uprising, then went into hiding when Gadhafi's forces retook the city, and recently rejoined the rebels.

"We praise God that we can come here now that we have liberated the square," he said, a Kalashnikov rifle slung over his shoulder.

Outside Zawiya, dozens of cars rushed through rebel checkpoints carrying families fleeing Tripoli. Their cars piled high with mattresses and supplies, those fleeing told of tense capital where Gadhafi loyalists were digging in.

"The situation is tragic in Tripoli, there is security everywhere but no electricity or gas," said Rabie Salem, who fled the capital Saturday. "The people are living in fear and no one will go out and demonstrate."

Salem said she and her family tried to leave the capital Friday but were turned back by Gadhafi forces at a checkpoint. She said they managed to escape Saturday by traveling on back roads.

Source: MSNBC