Tripoli : Libyan rebels sneaked into Tripoli by sea on Sunday to launch the first salvos in the fight for the capital, as opposition forces surged to join them in a final push to topple Muammar Gaddafi’s shaky regime.
“The zero hour has started. The rebels in Tripoli have risen up,” Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, vice-chairman of the rebel National Transitional Council, based in Benghazi, said. A regime spokesman acknowledged a small band of insurgents had penetrated the capital but said Tripoli was well-defended by “thousands” of troops.
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, which comes more than six months after a popular uprising turned into a civil war, was launched from their western enclave of Misrata, 200 km 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 said. Intermittent gunfire crackled in Tripoli shortly after four strong blasts were heard around 4 am as NATO warplanes flew overhead. This was followed by more gunfire and further blasts.
The targets were not immediately identifiable but witnesses reported clashes in several districts between insurgents and Gaddafi supporters, namely in the eastern neighbourhoods of Soug Jomaa, Arada and Tajura. Government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim, however, the situation was under control.