Ynet correspondent hears gunshots in Libyan capital, sees masses of refugees waiting for a plane to take them away, and finds city trying to go back to normal – while realizing fear will not disappear any time soon
Ynet correspondent Published: 03.06.11
The gunshots began on Saturday, at around 2 am. At first I heard three or four single gunshots, and then a long series. The source of fire appeared to be very close to my hotel in Tripoli, coming from the direction of al-Aziz, the huge military base where Libyan leader Gaddafi and his sons are believed to be hiding.
The gunshots continued all night and were a continuation of the activities of local security services. They take pictures of the protestors during the day, and then knock on their doors at night, question and threaten them. If all goes well. If not, they forcibly kidnap them and hide them from their families.
A "day of rage" was declared in Libya on Friday. Protests were held in a number of neighborhoods in Tripoli, and the police dispersed the crowd with tear gas. In the evening, a pro-Gaddafi protest was held in the Green Square. The participants sang songs in support and praise of the leader, while others called radio stations and expressed their hope that Gaddafi would continue leading the country.
At the very same time, the Libyan security services were busy arresting opposition leaders, simply making them disappear. All this in Tripoli, which is supposed to be Gaddafi's stronghold. And if this is the situation here, in the line of fire things are much more difficult for him.
Over the weekend, the battles in the western city of Zawiya continued. The rebels are fighting with firearms against Gaddafi's people. This is a crucial battle for the leader. Some 45 kilometers (28 miles) from Tripoli, this battle could affect the entire war.
Gaddafi understands that Zawiya is the city controlling the passage to Libya's western border. If he gets his hand on the city, western Libya – from Tripoli to the border with Tunisia – will be under his control. Only then he will be available to fight for Libya's eastern part.
Gaddafi: First we take the west
The battles were heavy. Dozens were killed. According to reports coming from the nearby town, the hospitals are full and there are no medications and supplies for the fighters ready to sacrifice their lives to free Libya from the burden of the Gaddafi family.
They are faced by the Libyan army, those who have remained loyal, and it is unclear whether and when they will give in and join the rebels – or alternatively, keep their heads down and obey the tyrant's orders.
Additional battles were held over the weekend in Ras Lanuf, a very important city. The rebels say its oil facility is under their control, but Gaddafi has managed to gain control of the site using air and ground forces.
The tactics are clear: While in the west he fights the rebels face-to-face, threatens them, uses force, makes them disappear and shoots them at close range – in the east he settles for attacking oil strongholds.
The rebels, like the tyrannical Libyan regime, know very well that the only thing international community cares about is who will control the oil, who will get their hands on the crossings used to load the black gold on ships.
For now, the rebels are moving forward, but Gaddafi has gotten hold of the oil resources. After he overpowers the western side, he'll find the time to deal with the rioters in the east.
With secret service agent in Tripoli
On the morning after the battles, Tripoli looks like it's having a hangover after a long party. The residents are trying to return to normal, slowly but safely. But it will be a long routine of pressure and fear.
In the morning hours, the streets are still dirty. In the early afternoon hours, the street sweepers have already picked up all posters and tear gas evidence. Gaddafi's goal is to give people the feeling that they can go on living a normal life in a city engaged in war on several fronts.
One of these fronts is the international one. The harsh criticism voiced by world leaders, and the fact that the regime has realized that it must allow western media in, have forced Gaddafi to reduce the bombardments against his people from the air and focus on secret and more concrete activity.
There are quite a lot of testimonies of this tense routine. The long lines of residents focus on the need to buy heating gas and bread. A. A., a 45-year-old construction worker, told me: "We don't know what's really going to happen. In the meantime, as you can see, many businesses are still closed. There is no shortage of medicine and food here in Tripoli, but we are definitely short on bread and heating gas."
He is joined by several store owners who have yet to decide whether to remove the locks and open their businesses.
In another neighborhood I visited, I spoke to M.K., a teacher. Although I am accompanied by Gaddafi's secret service agents, and he knows they are government workers, he notes that "the Libyans are now demanding basic human rights. We want to talk freely, we want freedom of thought. I don't think things will ever be the same again. Gaddafi promised us more rights, and now we just have to wait and see."
And do you believe him? I ask. The young teacher gazes at the plain-clothed secret service agent standing next to me and says, "I believe it 80%."
The tight security escort isn't reserved just for 150 Western journalists, who are basically treated well. On Tripoli's streets one can easily identify the secret services and security forces deployed on every corner and main junction.
On the main Omar al-Mukhtar Street stand secret police agents and military police officers. One wrong move, a hesitant gesture, and you're immediately arrested and questioned.
One of them ordered me to stop taking pictures. Only after a long conversation, he agreed to return my passport, not before issuing a clear recommendation: "Don’t take any more photos. If you take pictures, you'll be murdered." I didn't argue.
Tripoli is getting back to normal. The traffic is flowing. Outside the airport, masses of foreign refugees can be seen – from Bangladesh, Sudan, Egypt. Babies, children, women and elderly people are pouring out of the terminal, waiting for planes to arrive and take them away from here. This is quite a difficult task, as very few planes land in Tripoli these days.
Tsur Shezaf, Ynet's correspondent in Benghazi, reports that unlike Egypt, where the authorities declared they would honor the peace agreement with Israel, the Libyan rebels don't want anything to do with Israel.
According to one of the rebels he spoke to, Israel is harmful entity as far as the Arab world is concerned. However, unlike other countries, people on the street are not blaming Israel for the situation the country has gotten into.
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