Libya: Rebels rejoice at taking Gaddafi Tripoli HQ

Libya’s UN envoy: Country will be liberated within 72 hours; Israeli expert: Disparate opposition likely to fracture.

By OREN KESSLER
August 23, 2011 23:42
Libyan rebels ride along Bab al-Aziziyah

Libyan rebels ride along Bab al-Aziziyah. (photo credit: Reuters)

 
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Triumphant rebels seized Muammar Gaddafi’s compound in Tripoli on Tuesday after a fierce battle with loyalist forces, but there was no word on the fate of the Libyan leader who vowed again to fight “to the end.”

Rebel fighters streamed through the Libyan strongman’s sprawling Bab al- Aziziya compound Tuesday, firing in the air in celebration after hours of heavy clashes. Libyan UN envoy Ibrahim Dabbashi said the compound was fully in the hands of opposition fighters, and that the country would be liberated within 72 hours.

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Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, resurfaced overnight Tuesday in Tripoli, mocking rebel leaders for reporting he had been captured, but it remained unclear Tuesday night whether Gaddafi or his other sons were still hiding somewhere in the Bab al-Aziziya complex’s maze of buildings and bunkers.

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Prof. Yehudit Ronen, a Libya specialist at Bar-Ilan University’s Department of Political Studies and Tel Aviv University’s Moshe Dayan Center, said she believes the 42-year reign of Libya’s “Brother Leader” has finally reached its end.

“In my view, the Gaddafi era is over,” she said, “but his capture will be needed to satisfy the masses’ desire for revenge. We saw how far they went in Egypt, putting Hosni Mubarak in a cage to slake the public’s thirst for vengeance.”

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Ronen said Libya’s opposition camp is marked primarily by its heterogeneity.

“It incorporates all the elements of Libyan society – tribal leaders, leaders of the eastern and western areas, military brass who deserted from Gaddafi’s army and foreign service officers who deserted years ago,” she said.

“We’re likely to see more and more cracks in this opposition, because there are no few disagreements, rivalries and conflicts of interests between them,” she said. “Until now there has been a common goal of toppling the regime, but the moment the government falls and Gaddafi is captured, the mission will have been accomplished and a new agenda required – political, ideological and economic. The glue that held them together is likely to melt away.



“There are divisions between expatriates and those who managed to stay in Libya without being executed, and, of course, between radical Islamists and everyone else,” she added.

“There are Islamists in Libya – there’s no doubt about that. Once Libya starts moving toward a new era, they will want to be present on the political map and in vying for the country’s political resources. It’s difficult to say exactly where that will lead, but they are there.”

Pedi Benattia, director of the Or-Shalom museum of Libyan Jewish heritage in Bat Yam, said that while he has little love for Gaddafi, the regime that succeeds him could be far worse.

“This vacuum will be filled by radical Islam, just as it is in Egypt and other [Arab] states that are undergoing revolutions,” he said.

Benattia – born in Israel to parents from Khums, a town 120 kilometers east of Tripoli – said some Libyan Jews would like to visit a post-Gaddafi Libya, but few would like to return permanently to their country of birth.

“Little remains of what once was Jewish Libya, but that which does remain is of course a source of joy for those of us who were born there,” he said.

“We would all be happy to receive back the property that was seized from us, as well as compensation for the fact that many were forced to sell their property for cheap because they wanted to leave as fast as they could.”

As rebels tighten their grip on Tripoli on the ground, Gaddafi’s already dire geopolitical standing continued to drop virtually by the hour.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said after speaking to US President Barack Obama that the end of Gaddafi’s rule was “inevitable and near.”

Meanwhile, a Pentagon spokesman said he believed Gaddafi was still in Libya and that his forces remained a threat.

A State Department spokesperson said Washington is seeking to release between $1 billion and $1.5b. in frozen Libyan assets to the Libyan rebels’ Transitional National Council.

The spokesperson said it was clear the Gaddafi regime had nearly collapsed, and that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday about how the UN could give Libya humanitarian relief and security assistance, if requested, and support on matters such as constitution-writing.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is scheduled to meet rebel leader Mahmoud Jibril in Milan on Thursday, Berlusconi’s office said. Jibril is head of the executive committee of Libya’s National Transitional Council and is referred to as its prime minister.

Rome – once Gaddafi’s closest European ally – has aggressively courted the rebels since abruptly switching sides in April, after the NATO bombing campaign began.

Rebels had said on Monday that Gaddafi’s compound was being protected by tanks and snipers, and on Tuesday progovernment forces initially tried to defend the vast edifice but were quickly overwhelmed.

A column of black smoke rose over the compound as dozens of heavily-armed rebels, along with some unarmed civilians, entered the complex cheering. A rebel tore a poster of Gaddafi, while others tried to pull down a statue of a hand crushing a fighter jet. Chanting and car horns could be heard in the area in apparent celebration, according to live television broadcasts.

Libyan UN envoy Dabbashi said Gaddafi’s headquarters is “totally in the hands of the revolutionaries,” and that the city of Sirte, Gaddafi’s hometown, would fall within the next 48 hours.

Dabbashi said the entire country would be under rebel control within three days.

“We expect Libya to be totally liberated and totally calm and peaceful within the next 72 hours,” he said, adding that Gaddafi and other top officials are probably scattered in houses across Tripoli, though they could be in an underground shelter.

The opposition is prepared to discuss the indictments of Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam and his intelligence chief with the International Criminal Court in The Hague, but would like to put them on trial as war criminals in Libya, he added.

The ICC indicted the trio for crimes against humanity and other war crimes in June. The court’s chief prosecutor has made clear he would like all three handed over to the court so it can try them in The Netherlands.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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