Rebels Attack Tripoli - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Rebels Attack Tripoli

Photo: Gianluigi Guercia Photo: Gianluigi Guercia

TRIPOLI, Libya -- Rebels clashed with regime loyalists and staged large anti-government protests around Tripoli on Sunday, residents said. Heavy machine gun fire and explosions rang out across the capital on the second day of attacks by what the opposition called "sleeping cells" inside the city that has been Moammar Gadhafi's stronghold throughout the 6-month-old civil war.

At the same time, hundreds of rebel forces were rapidly closing in on Tripoli, advancing to within 15 miles west of the capital and rushing forward at full speed in pickup trucks and on foot.

"We are scared and staying in our houses, but the younger boys are going out to protect our homes," said a woman who spoke to The Associated Press by telephone from the pro-rebel Tripoli neighborhood of Bin Ashour. She spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. She said a neighbor's son was shot dead on Saturday night by Gadhafi troops as he tried to protect his street with a group of rebel youth.

Nuri al-Zawi, another resident of Bin Ashour, told the AP by phone that the rebels were using light arms to protect their streets, and in some cases were using only their bodies to fend off the Gadhafi troops riding in pickup trucks.

"We are used to this situation now. We are a city that is cut off from the world now," he said.

Libyan rebels said Saturday that they had launched their first attack on Tripoli in coordination with NATO and gunbattles and mortar rounds rocked the city. NATO aircraft also made heavier than usual bombing runs after nightfall, with loud explosions booming across the city.

The residents reported clashes in neighborhoods all over Tripoli as well as the city's Mitiga military airport. They said they heard loud explosions and exchanges in of gunfire in the Fashloum, Tajoura and Bin Ashour neighborhoods. Residents and opposition fighters also reported large anti-regime protests in those same neighborhoods. In some of them, thousands braved the bullets of snipers perched atop high buildings.

Mukhtar Lahab, a rebel commander closing in on Tripoli and a former captain in Gadhafi's army, said his relatives inside the capital reported mass protests in four neighborhoods known as sympathetic to the opposition: Fashloum, Souk al-Jouma, Tajoura and Janzour. He said mosques there were rallying residents with chants of "Allahu Akbar" or "God is great," broadcast on loudspeakers.

Hundreds of rebels were also advancing rapidly toward Tripoli from the west and the south.

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