TRIPOLI, Libya — Libyan rebels claimed to be in control of most of Tripoli Monday after their swift advance on the capital heralded the fall of Moammar Gadhafi’s 42-year regime. But they still faced some fierce resistance, with scattered gunbattles erupting, and the mercurial leader was nowhere to be found.
The international community called on Gadhafi to step down and moved ahead with post-war planning as euphoric rebel supporters celebrated in Green Square, the symbolic heart of the fading Gadhafi regime. Colleagues warned the leader would not go easily, even after three of his sons were arrested.
“The real moment of victory is when Gadhafi is captured,” Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, the head of the rebels’ National Transitional Council, said at a news conference in the opposition’s de facto capital of Benghazi in the east, hundreds of miles from Tripoli.
NATO vowed to keep up its air campaign until all pro-Gadhafi forces surrender or return to their barracks. The alliance’s warplanes have hit at least 40 targets in and around Tripoli in the past two days — the highest number on a single geographic location since the bombing started more than five months ago, NATO said.
“We came out today to feel a bit of freedom,” Ashraf Halaby, a 30-year-old Tripoli resident, said as he and four of his friends watched several hundred people celebrating at Green Square. “We still don’t believe that this is happening.”
Revelers flashed the “V’’ for victory sign and motorists circled the plaza, honking horns and waving rebel flags.
After they took it over late Sunday night, rebels declared that Green Square would now be called Martyr’s Square, restoring the name it had before Gadhafi’s regime took power more than four decades ago. Google’s map of Tripoli has already adopted the rebels’ new name for the square. Similarly, the opposition also took up the pre-Gadhafi flag of Libya as their own at the start of their uprising six months ago.
The rest of the city, a metropolis of some 2 million people on the Mediterranean coast, was on edge. Most stores were shuttered and large areas lifeless. There was barely a sign of the thousands of rebels now in the city.
Clashes broke out early in the day at Gadhafi’s longtime command center known as Bab al-Aziziya, when a few government tanks emerged from the complex and opened fire at rebels trying to get in, according to residents living nearby. An Associated Press reporter at the nearby Rixos Hotel, where foreign journalists stay, heard gunfire and loud explosions from the direction of the complex.
OBJECTMoammar al-Warfali, whose family home is next to the Gadhafi compound, said there appeared to be only a few tanks belonging to the remaining Gadhafi forces that have not fled or surrendered.
“When I climb the stairs and look at it from the roof, I see nothing at Bab al-Aziziya,” he said. “NATO has demolished it all and nothing remains.”
There were also signs of tension between rebels and residents at a gas station in the neighborhood of Gourji, with heated arguments over who should fill up first after rebels cut in line. Opposition leaders urged people to protect public property, and no looting was reported.
The opposition leader Abdel-Jalil said rebels have now captured three of Gadhafi’s sons. He said they detained al-Saadi Gadhafi on Sunday night along with his brother Seif al-Islam, the one-time heir apparent to his father.
Gadhafi’s sons and daughter have all played roles in their father’s regime, some in diplomacy and others in business. Al-Saadi and his brothers Mutassim and Khamis all headed military brigades.
The International Criminal Court has confirmed the capture of Seif al-Islam, who along with his father faces charges of crimes against humanity. Another son, Mohammed, was under house arrest.