Last Updated: Sun Aug 21, 2011 21:37 pm (KSA) 18:37 pm (GMT)

‘I will fight for Tripoli,’ Qaddafi vows to emerge victorious, NATO says regime crumbling

Colonel Qaddafi said was "afraid that Tripoli will burn" and said he would provide weapons to supporters to fight off the rebels. (File photo by REUTERS)
Colonel Qaddafi said was "afraid that Tripoli will burn" and said he would provide weapons to supporters to fight off the rebels. (File photo by REUTERS)

As rebel forces fired the opening shots in a battle for the Libyan capital Tripoli, embattled leader Muammar Qaddafi said that he refused to surrender power and pledged to emerge "victorious" from the fighting for Tripoli.

In a new audio message broadcast on state television on Sunday, Colonel Qaddafi said on Sunday he will stay in Tripoli "until the end" and called on his supporters around the country to help liberate the capital from a rebel offensive.

"The time is now to fight for your politics, your oil, your land," he said. "I am with you in Tripoli - together until the ends of the earth," Col. Qaddafi shouted.

Col. Qaddafi added that he was "afraid that Tripoli will burn" and said he would provide weapons to supporters to fight off the rebels.

The message from the Libyan leader came as rebels launched an assault on the Libyan capital, saying it was expected to fall within hours.

As rebels launched their battle for Tripoli, NATO said on Sunday that the Qaddafi regime is "crumbling."

"What we're seeing tonight is the regime crumbling," chief NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu told AFP. "The sooner Qaddafi realizes there is no way he can win, the better for everyone."

Libyan rebels had snuck into Tripoli by sea on Sunday to launch the first salvos in the fight for the capital, as opposition forces nearing the capital aimed for a final push to topple Col. Qaddafi.

A regime spokesman acknowledged a small band of insurgents had penetrated the capital but insisted that Tripoli was well-defended by "thousands" of troops, AFP reported.

The dawn assault by the advance party, who were joined by Tripoli rebels, marked the start of what the opposition has dubbed "Operation Mermaid" and which it vows will end only when the veteran strongman surrenders or departs.

Rebel spokesman Abdullah Melitan said the covert operation, more than six months after an uprising turned into civil war, was launched from their western enclave of Misrata, 200 kilometers (125 miles) from Tripoli.

An advance party "from Misrata reached Tripoli this dawn by sea and joined Tripoli rebels. They are now fighting alongside them," spokesman Abdullah Melitan told AFP.

About 200 Libyan rebel fighters have reached the capital Tripoli in boats from Misrata to reinforce fighters already in the city, a pro-rebel activist in the capital told a Reuters reporter.

He added that rebels were in a fierce gun battle with forces loyal to Muammar Qaddafi inside the Mitiga airbase in Tripoli's Tajoura district.

Rebel advances on Libya came as NATO appeared to intensify its air strikes after urging civilians to avoid areas around government installations and arsenals.

Meanwhile, the White House predicted on Sunday that Col. Qaddafi’s days as leader of Libya were nearly over.

President Barack Obama received a briefing from senior national security staffer John Brennan at his rented farmhouse on the resort island of Martha's Vineyard, AFP reported, which included inputs from a US team in rebel stronghold Benghazi.

"The United States continues to communicate closely with our allies, partners, and the (rebels' Transitional National Council)," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

"We believe that Qaddafi’s days are numbered, and that the Libyan people deserve a just, democratic and peaceful future," he said.

Striking another blow to Col. Qaddafi’s regime, Tunisia, Libya's neighbor to the west, on Sunday decided to recognize the rebel National Transitional Council as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people, the news agency TAP reported.

Meanwhile, Muammar Qaddafi’s former right-hand man, Abdel Salam Jalloud, who has change sides in support of the Libyan rebels, said on Sunday that the Colonel would be toppled within ten days at most.

Mr. Jalloud, who was a member of the junta that staged a 1969 coup bringing col. Qaddafi to power, said on Italy's Rai News that the regime would be finished "within a week, at the latest 10 days, maybe even less."

Fighting in Tripoli on Saturday night and Sunday morning killed 376 people on both sides and injured about 1,000, an official in Muammar Qaddafi's government told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, a ship chartered by the International Organisation for Migration was to leave late Sunday for Tripoli from Benghazi in eastern Libya to evacuate about 300 foreigners, an IOM official told AFP.
"The boat is due to leave tonight from Benghazi to evacuate around 300 foreigners from Tripoli if the security situation will allow it," Martin Jerrett said.

He added that most of the foreigners were "Egyptians, Bangladeshis, Filipinos ... There is a lot of nationalities. They'll be taken back to Benghazi, then to the Egyptian border by land. We plan to chart more boats in the coming days."

Foreign journalists in the capital also received IOM passes to be evacuated after rebels entered western Tripoli on Sunday in clashes with pro-government forces.
Gunmen loyal to Col. Qaddafi, reportedly armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles, opened fire late on Sunday from outside Hotel Rixos towards the east - the hotel used by the foreign media in the center of the Libyan capital.
Thousands of rebel fighters 25 km (15 miles) west of Tripoli were seen moving toward the capital on Sunday evening.

As the rebels advanced, they took control of a barracks belonging to the so-called Khamis brigade, the Libyan government's most elite security unit which is commanded by one of Col. Qaddafi's sons, Khamis, Reuters reported.

At the base, rebels loaded two huge trucks with boxes full of ammunition as they chanted: "We are coming for you, frizz-head."

Ahmed Al Ajdal, 27, a fighter from Tripoli, was loading up a truck with ammunition.

"This is the wealth of the Libyan people that he was using against us," he said, pointing to his haul. "Now we will use it against him and any other dictator who goes against the Libyan people."

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