Rebel fighters celebrated victory in Tripoli's Green Square last night as heavy fighting continued in the capital. Hours after Colonel Gaddafi congratulated his forces for standing firm, his son Saif al Islam was arrested by the opposition, the International Criminal Court confirmed.
The rebel troops landed by sea to re-inforce an uprising inside the capital, signalling that the bloody endgame to the civil war was fast approaching, with revolutionary forces surrounding the city. The regime sent tanks into residential areas and opened fire on protesters in an attempt to claw back control. Gaddafi turned thousands of troops on opposition members inside the capital, with claims from fleeing residents of homes destroyed and roadside executions.
But some of the rebel fighters entering Tripoli from the western side of the city were greeted by cheering crowds late last night, with some people tearing up portraits of Gaddafi. Mohammed Ilyash, an engineer, one of those celebrating, declared: "This is the birth of new Libya. We are seeing our country coming out of a dark and frightening time. We welcome our young men who are bringing us freedom." His friend, Omar Ali Baidi, added: "We now want to see justice catch up with Gaddafi and his family." However, ferocious fighting continued at other parts of the city late into the evening as Col Gaddafi, in an audio broadcast, called on the people of Tripoli, including women, to resist the "collaborators with the imperialists".
Moussa Ibrahim, the regime's official spokesman asked Nato to halt attacks and warned of "massacres to come in the city" by the rebels.
Meanwhile the remnants of the Khamis Khatiba (battalion) which used to be commanded by another son of Col Gaddafi's, surrendered to the revolutionaries. 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 overrun.
The secret cells inside Tripoli had been forced back with mounting losses during a day of fighting when, according to residents and rebels, around 200 fighters arrived by boat from Misrata. They joined up with local fighters to seize control of Matiga airport just outside Tripoli, leadingto rumours that special forces from "foreign countries" were due to arrive. 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 with the Shabab, youth volunteers , setting up road blocks of burning tyres and debris.
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 Ifthar (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.
"In some areas there were men in ordinary clothing also shooting at those demonstrating. A lot of people have been killed, others are just trying to leave the city. I have just spoken to my brother and my cousin. They say that there are now the boys from outside there. But those inside the city badly need help, otherwise Gaddafi will do even more terrible things."
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, had announced that Muammar Gaddafi and his family had fled. Col Gaddafi and his son, Saif al-Islam, 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. However, the rebels continued to face stiff resistance. The Independent witnessed regime forces hitting back with missiles and mortar rounds at Maya, on the outskirts of Tripoli.
A "technical" flatbed truck with mounted gun, which has become the transport of choice for both sides in the conflict, had a tyre shredded by Kalashnikov rounds. As it lurched from side to side, 19-year-old Saied Mukhtar stuck his head out of the window and was immediately shot in the neck. Mohammed Khalaf, 20, who had helped carry his friend to an ambulance, shook his head. "He is dead, I have still got his blood on my clothes. What a pity, he would have been in Tripoli in another two days. He would have seen his parents, he would have seen his country become free."
The base was eventually captured later in the day and the Shabab carried away weapons by lorry for the frontline. One fighter, Osama al-Bwadir, raised a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and said: "We will be able to use their own guns against them. I do not want to harm any of the soldiers, but there cannot be any mercy for Gaddafi and family."
Many of opposition fighters waiting outside Tripoli had families inside the capital taking part in the protests and were impatient to go in to fight and deliver supplies. But Nato was calling the shots yesterday as it has done increasingly in the conflict. Facing missile and machine-gun fire outside Al-Azaziyah, the Shabab were instructed to retreat so that Western warplanes could "neutralise" the positions. A series of blasts followed soon afterwards, and the incoming fire ended.
What could happen next?
Uprising from within Tripoli
With the prospect of Muammar Gaddafi clinging to power looking ever more remote, one way the regime could retain influence is for elements within Gaddafi's inner circle to stage a putsch against him. This scenario is looking increasingly unlikely, however, as the traditional army has largely been disbanded, many members of Gaddafi's government have defected to the rebels, and only fiercely loyal family and tribal members remain by his side. It is not even clear where Gaddafi is. Fawaz Gerges, a Middle East expert at the London School of Economics, says an armed uprising from within Tripoli's neighbourhoods is more likely, and there were signs of such a movement throughout the weekend with gunfire breaking out across the capital.
Another possible endgame is a negotiated peace deal whereby Gaddafi steps aside and potentially leaves the country, with the rebels also allowing safe passage for other regime cronies before setting up a government. This may be a preferred option for many foreign governments, but exhaustive talks brokered by countries ranging from Russia and China to South Africa have largely failed to reach any agreement, although the regime spokesman Moussa Ibrahim did yesterday speak of a ceasefire, a significant change in the defiant language usually proffered by Gaddafi's government. The rebels, however, have largely rejected any talks that do not explicitly dictate Gaddafi's expulsion from the country.
Rebels seize Tripoli by force, TNC takes control
With the rebels advancing on Tripoli, a bloodbath with Gaddafi allies making a last stand looks increasingly likely. If this transpires and the rebels seize the capital with Nato's help, the Transitional National Council – the shadow government based in the de facto rebel capital of Benghazi – would likely take the helm. The TNC has already been recognised as the legitimate government of Libya by many countries, including Britain and the United States. There are, however, deep splits within the rebel leadership.
Rebels seize Tripoli by force, Libya slides into a second civil war
The anger directed by the relatively well-organised rebel faction in the west towards the most chaotic band of opposition fighters in the east is palpable. There are concerns that even if the rebels are triumphant, tribal divisions and infighting among the various factions could sow a second civil war as they jostle for power. The killing last month by an Islamist rebel faction of the opposition military chief, General Abdel Fatah Younes, was an ominous sign of what the future could hold for a post-Gaddafi Libya.
Saturday, 4am local time
* Colonel Ahmed Bani, a rebel spokesman, says his forces had taken full control of the strategic oil port of Brega. Later he says they had fallen back after Gaddafi forces counter-attacked. Rebels also claim to control Zlitan in the east.
After intense fighting and numerous claims and counter-claims over the past week rebels finally take full control of Zawiyah, right, just west of Tripoli, cutting off the regime's main route to the outside world.
Reports of large anti-Gaddafi protests on the streets of Tripoli after sunset, followed by gunfire and explosions. Rebels say this is the beginning of Operation Mermaid, a co-ordinated assault on Tripoli with Nato. They claim weapons were sent to "sleeping cells" in Tripoli by boat on Friday. Reports of fighting in the district of Tajoura and around Matiga airport.
Government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim denies that there was an uprising in Tripoli. He said "some armed militants" had been "dealt with within a half-hour" and the situation was calm.
Colonel Gaddafi appears on state TV. He congratulates his forces on repelling an attack by "traitors" and "rats" bent on destroying Libya. "Libyans wanted to enjoy a peaceful Ramadan," he said. "Instead they have been made into refugees. What are we? Palestinians?"
A 600-strong force of rebels sets out eastward from Zawiyah and takes the town of Jedaim, the last before Tripoli. They reportedly advance as far as the 27 Bridge (27km from the capital), before being repelled by heavy fire from Gaddafi forces.
Opposition forces also advance from the recently captured city of Zlitan to the east and from the main road to the capital from the south.
"Hopefully we'll take Al-Aziziyah today and then march to Tripoli," one rebel told Reuters.
Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim calls for a ceasefire at a news conference in the capital. In a measured speech he says Nato "has gone mad indeed."
"I thought I knew the West," he said. "But in this conflict I saw a different West. The West of blood and disaster and killing and occupation."
Nato air forces assault Colonel Gaddafi's compound in Tripoli, amid unconfirmed reports that rebel forces had entered Tripoli by sea from the city of Misrata, 130km west.
The opposition is in full control of the Tripoli districts of Tajoraa, Suq al-Jumaa, Arada and al-Sabaa, according to reports on Al Jazeera TV. Fighting by rebel "sleeper groups" continued in Ben Ashhour, Fashlom, and Zawiyat al-Dahmani neighbourhoods. Around 450 prisoners were reportedly freed from a military base in Tajoraa after the opposition took control.
6.06pm: Colonel Gaddafi addresses the country by a state TV audio broadcast in which he insists he remains in Libya with his people and that Tripoli will be defended until the end.
8.14pm: Hundreds of euphoric Libyan rebels pushed to the western outskirts of Tripoli without meeting any resistance.
10.29pm: Downing Street says: "It is clear from the scenes we are witnessing in Tripoli that the end is near for Gaddafi. He has committed appalling crimes against the people of Libya and he must go now to avoid any further suffering for his own people."
12.10pm: Libyan rebels are seen celebrating and waving opposition flags in Tripoli's central Green Square.
12.14pm: The International Criminal Court (ICC) confirms rebel claim that Colonel Gaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam, has been detained.