The endgame is near in Gaddafi's bloody war


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The Independent Online

Another town falls. Another hook of the trap around Tripoli locks into place. More die, more homes burn, the hatred deepens. But after months of savage strife, there is now a sense that the endgame is at last approaching in Libya's bloody civil war.

The latest battleground was Sabratha, an ancient city and Unesco heritage site. Yesterday I walked through its streets, now in rebel hands after prolonged and fierce fighting. This has cut off Muammar Gaddafi's regime further from its lifeline to the outside world, denuding it of food, fuel and reinforcements.

"We are going to Tripoli and meet Gaddafi," shouted a rebel fighter waving his Kalashnikov. It was a battle-cry we have heard many times, but now that final journey may not be too far away. Underlining the sense of desperation in the Libyan capital, the United Nations announced yesterday that it was mounting an emergency evacuation by sea of the thousands of trapped foreigners.

The regime continued to claim that it was winning. All citizens, it was announced, would receive a reward of 500 dinars (£180) "for being steadfast". Spokesman Moussa Ibrahim insisted: "We reassure people that we are making progress on all fronts." He was subdued. His brother Hasan Ali, 25, was killed in the town of Zawiyah, supposedly in a Nato attack.

The rebels are, however, still suffering setbacks. They are not in total control of Zawiyah, where regime forces have kept up a barrage of rocket and mortar fire. There were accounts, unconfirmed, that cluster bombs have been used. The Tripoli forces also drove the opposition out of Zlitan, near Misrata.

But, overall, the mood of the revolutionaries is one of confidence and – unless there is an extraordinary change in the fortunes of this conflict – it is extremely difficult to foresee Gaddafi achieving military victory.

The overwhelming "game-changer" has been the international support for the rebels. There had been much publicity about Gaddafi employing foreign mercenaries, but the few hired guns he had were never remotely a match for Western firepower.

Tripoli resident Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, jailed for the Lockerbie bombing, was freed two years ago today on the advice that he had three months to live.