Rebels scent victory as Tripoli falls with ease


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The Libyan regime looked to be on the brink of collapse last night as rebel convoys marched on Tripoli and the oppostition claimed that Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam had been captured.

Convoys of fighters streamed into the outskirts of the capital with little resistance, according to some reports. The advancing fighters were only 7km (4.5 miles) from the centre and were being welcomed by civilians pouring into the streets, Sky reported.

The head of Libya's opposition administration, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, claimed that Gaddafi's son had been seized. Meanwhile, the remnants of the Khamis Khatiba battalion, which used to be commanded by another son of Gaddafi, surrendered to the revolutionaries last night. The unit had acquired a fearsome reputation for brutality towards opponents of the regime. Soldiers began giving up soon after their base at Maya was taken over by the opposition.

"I am afraid if we don't act, they will burn Tripoli," Gaddafi, above left, said in an audio address broadcast on state television. "I am giving the order to open the weapons stockpiles."

Secret cells which had begun attacking regime institutions in Tripoli on Saturday evening had been forced back with mounting losses during a day of fighting when, according to residents and rebels, around 200 fighters were reported to have arrived by boat from Misrata. They joined up with local fighters to seize control of Matiga airport just outside Tripoli. Gaddafi's troops hit back, pounding the runways and were said to be advancing on the complex.

However, Tripoli residents reported that at least four districts – Fashlum, Souk al-Jouma, Tajoura and Janzour – were in the hands of the opposition.

Hassan Al-Showas, who had escaped with his wife and three children, described scenes of chaotic violence in the capital. "It started on Saturday after Iftar (the breaking of fast during the month of Ramadan) then we started hearing that Gaddafi had gone," he said. "People came out on the streets and some of the boys took their guns towards the ministries. But then the government started shooting."

The Tripoli uprising started the night after a television channel controlled by the opposition administration, the Transitional National Council (TNC) based in Benghazi in the east, announced that Gaddafi and his family had fled. He denounced the claim in radio broadcasts before the vengeful crackdown began.

Opposition commanders around Tripoli acknowledged that the assault on the capital would take place in conjunction with cells inside carrying out attacks. i witnessed regime forces hit back with missiles and mortar rounds at Maya, on the outskirts of Tripoli, as they defended the military barracks of the Khamis battalion. The base was eventually captured.