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Libya: It ain't over yet

Despite taking of Gaddafi compound, rebel council in Benghazi admits that pockets of resistance remain.

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A Libyan rebel in Ajdabiya, a city close to the rebel capital of Benghazi, in March. (Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images)

BENGHAZI, Libya — Two days after Libyan rebels marched on Muammar Gaddafi's once-feared Tripoli stronghold, residents in this de facto revolutionary capital city were still triumphantly celebrating the apparent finale to a six-month, mostly stalemate, civil war.

Thousands of jubilant revelers flooded Benghazi's Martyrs' Square — the epicenter of the February uprising against Gaddafi's 42-year rule — on Tuesday night, firing their guns into the air as news that Gaddafi's compound had been captured reached the rebel capital.

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Young children and their families sang nationalist songs, launched heart-pounding fireworks from the sidewalks, and waved the ubiquitous red, green, and black "free Libya" flags. Celebratory machine gun bursts tore into the night sky.

All the news though has been tempered by what has always been a back and forth fight. On Monday night, most people in the festival-like square celebrated news that rebels had detained three of Gaddafi's sons, Saif, Mohamed, and Saadi, and that the leader's own Tripoli compound was completely encircled.

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"Since making it to Tripoli, it is now all but assured that this is over and that we will be finally free from Gaddafi forever," said Saif Nasser, 45, sitting under a tent with his friends at Martyr's Square.

But the party started a little early.

Later on Monday, conflicting reports about the rebels' military successes in Tripoli began to emerge, leading to much confusion about the veracity of information being disseminated by both sides in the conflict.

Some fierce fighting and gunfire are still being reported in several neighborhoods in both Tripoli and Zuwarah, a city west of Tripoli along the coastal route to the Tunisian border. Gaddafi forces were reportedly using grad rockets in Zuwarah, according to rebel leaders in Benghazi.

Meanwhile, Mohamed Gaddafi, who had been apprehended by rebel fighters on Sunday, escaped the next day, according to reports.

Rebel claims that Saif Gaddafi was in their custody were also premature. Saif, once presumed to be the heir apparent to Gaddafi's rule, stepped out of a car in central Tripoli, to flaunt his independence in front of a crowd of journalists.

"We broke the back of the rebels. It was a trap. We gave them a hard time, so we are winning," Saif screamed on Monday outside his father's Bab al-Azizia Tripoli compound, defiantly challenging the contradictory reports that he had been arrested, according to Reuters.

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Much of what official spokesmen for the Gaddafi regime have said in recent days — that rebel fighters would encounter intense resistance in a heavily guarded capital city — has been largely disproven by rebel accounts on the ground inside Tripoli.

But the conflicting news in the last couple days has raised some doubts over the credibility of the information coming from the National Transitional Council (NTC), the Benghazi-based rebel administration that has been recognized by the United States and many other countries as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people.

Shamsiddin Abdulmolah, the director of media and communications for the NTC, confirmed to GlobalPost that his government had unknowingly released reports about Saif's capture based on inaccurate information.

"We should have requested evidence of the detention, but we did not. We took the information on face value," Abdulmolah admitted. "But the situation on the ground in Tripoli is very fluid, and sometimes commanders on the ground receive conflicting reports from their subordinates."

Abdulmolah also said that Gaddafi loyalists posing as rebel fighters had helped Mohamed escape on Monday. Mohamed's request to make a telephone call — which was granted — was most likely used by regime forces to pinpoint his exact location, according to Abdulmolah.

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Meanwhile, the NTC reiterated on Monday that 75 percent of Libya was under the control of "liberating forces" on Tuesday, and that only pockets of resistance remained.

Gaddafi's Bab al-Azizia compound remains one of those pockets, despite being totally surrounded by rebel fighters.

Abdulmolah predicted Gaddafi's "last hurrah" by Tuesday evening, claiming that rebels would completely overrun his headquarters, once NATO air strikes began to strike the building.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/110823/libya-it-aint-over-yet