SIRTE, Libya— Gunfights broke out in the Libyan capital Tripoli on Friday between supporters of deposed leader Moammar Gadhafi and forces of the National Transitional Council, raising fears of an insurgency against the country’s new rulers.
Nearly two months since seizing the capital, Libya’s National Transitional Council has failed to capture the final holdout towns still under the grip of Gadhafi’s supporters. The ousted leader has repeatedly vowed to lead an uprising.
Friday’s battles appeared to be isolated and involve only dozens of pro-Gadhafi fighters, but it was the first sign of armed resistance to the NTC in the city since its rebel brigades seized the capital and ended Gadhafi’s 42-year rule in August.
Hundreds of NTC fighters in trucks shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest) careered toward the Abu Salim neighborhood, a center of support for Gadhafi, and the two sides exchanged automatic and heavy machinegun fire.
NTC commanders say Gadhafi’s diehard loyalists now only control an area measuring about 700 yards north to south, and around a mile east to west; a residential area of mostly apartment blocks.
The biggest obstacle to taking the town has been Gadhafi’s snipers hiding in the buildings. Tanks are used to hit the buildings from close range and dislodge the snipers.
Behind the tanks, lines of pick-up and scores of infantry readied for battle Friday.
Green flags, the banner of Gadhafi’s rule, flew above of the buildings ahead. Gadhafi himself is believed to be hiding somewhere in the vast Libyan desert.
Gadhafi supporters were still holding out in Sirte, Gadhafi’s coastal hometown in the center of the country, where a small pocket is battling on after weeks of fighting, and Bani Walid, a town south of Tripoli.
Rebels reportedly said there were possibly as few as 100 Gadhafi loyalists left in Sirte.
“There are a hundred fighters, maybe a little more, holding us up. That is all,” former dentist Salah al-Obeidi, now a rebel commander, told The Guardian newspaper.
The paper said other rebels estimated there were 200 loyalists in the city.
“They are finished. All they can do is surrender. There has been no attempt to negotiate with them. We don’t negotiate with terrorists. We hear them talking on their radios. Talking about ‘rats’ and killing infidels,” al-Obeidi told The Guardian.
Libya’s de facto leader, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, said Wednesday he expected to declare total victory in less than a week, which would pave the way for a new interim government to be named to guide the oil-rich North African nation to elections within eight months.
A senior NTC official however denied reports by other officials in the new government that Gadhafi’s son Muatassim had been captured in Sirte.
Surrounded now on all sides, Gadhafi’s remaining forces in Sirte can have no hope of winning the battle, but are still fighting on, inflicting dozens of casualties with rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and small arms.
One field hospital received two NTC dead and 23 wounded on Thursday. One of the dead men had been hit while taking food up to the fighters on the front line, doctors said.
One NTC commander said Gadhafi’s besieged forces were no longer using heavier weapons and he said they appeared to have lost their cohesion as a fighting force.
“We’ve noticed now they are fighting every man for himself,” said Baloun Al Sharie, a field commander. “We tried to tell them it’s enough and to give themselves up, but they would not.”
Some captured fighters have been roughed up by NTC forces and Amnesty International issued a report on Wednesday saying Libya’s new rulers were in danger of repeating human rights abuses commonplace during Gadhafi’s rule. The NTC said it would look into the report.
Close to the center of the fighting in Sirte, government forces found 25 corpses wrapped in plastic sheets. They accused Gadhafi militias of carrying out execution-style killings. Five corpses shown to a Reuters team wore civilian clothes, had their hands tied behind their backs and gunshot wounds to the head.
But as the battle for Libya draws toward what the NTC and NATO hope will be a close, both the new government and the Western alliance which helped topple Gadhafi are looking toward a return to normality.
(www.msnbc.msn.com / 14.10.2011)