Tripoli residents cry "Allahu Akbar" every time a falling bomb is heard
Libyan women cheer in Tripoli. Rebels have launched a massive offensive on leader Moamer Kadhafi's sprawling Bab al-Azizya compound in the capital, as the strongman's son refuted reports of his own arrest. © Filippo Monteforte - AFP
Tripoli residents cry
Charles Onians, AFP
Last updated: August 23, 2011

Death rains from above on Tripoli's streets

"Kadhafi is killing all the people, please help us," a Tripoli man wept after his family was wiped out by a mortar that hit his house near the Libyan leader's Bab al-Azizya compound on Tuesday.

The man stumbled through the dusty, empty streets of a district around two kilometres (over a mile) to the west of Bab al-Azizya, where rebel fighters massed at a nearby school said they would march on the compound imminently.

"It will all be over in 30 minutes, God willing" said Mohammed, his optimism undimmed by the drawn out finale of the Libyan revolution that most hoped would be over already, three days after the freedom fighters entered the capital.

With the rebels piling toward the heavily fortified compound, poorly armed and trained men are left to look after many city checkpoints, hoping for reinforcements amid confusion over who controls what in the battle-scarred city.

Salah is a 20-year-old former Kadhafi conscript who deserted the loyalist forces six weeks ago to join the revolution. He holds a 9 mm pistol in one hand, and a crutch in the other to relieve his foot injured in fighting with rebels.

"We are protecting the area now, it is under our control while they attack Bab al-Azizya. We are waiting for support to come from Zawiya (40 kilometres to the west)," he said, as flies buzzed around his unhealed wound.

"I don't know when they will arrive."

"The rebels will attack the compound with tanks from Misrata (to the east)," he said, something that could complicate NATO's precision air strikes on Kadhafi's armour.

NATO jets could be heard screaming almost constantly overhead on Tuesday, much more than on previous days, an AFP correspondent reported.

Every time the distinctive boom of their bombs is heard, people throughout the city cry "Allahu Akbar," each bomb felt as another step taken towards liberty.

A group of women and girls moves down one of the city's streets, turning to smile and flash V-for-Victory signs at the men who are defending their homes.

Babies cannot sleep and scream their wakefulness every time there is a nearby gunshot. And the gunshots are constant and everywhere.

Until Monday, long-bearded Samir Chakara was a prisoner of Kadhafi's regime at Ain Zara prison, from where rebels have just freed him and 900 others.

"I was arrested for taking part in demonstrations. They were looking for me everywhere and eventually found me, three-and-a-half months ago."

In pre-revolutionary times, he was a specialised printer, producing chequebooks, hologrammed material and the like. Today he is a former political prisoner turned freedom fighter, manning a checkpoint in the tense urban sprawl.

Fellow former political prisoner Abdel Fatah shows the unhealed welts on his wrists, from when he was chained up for several hours a day.

"While chained, they would hit me in the back with rifle butts, spit at me and insult me," he said.

Behind him pro-regime graffiti daubed on a shop wall reads "God, religion, Kadhafi, Libya." The 'Kadhafi' has now been crossed out with a thick brush of black paint.

Another piece of crossed-out pro-regime graffiti says "All Libyans are rats."

"You see how mad he is?" a nearby youth says of the veteran leader.

The rumour mill is in full swing, as news spread by word of mouth.

The mobile phone network comes and goes. There is no electricity for television. Few fighters have walkie-talkies or satellite telephones. Today, most Libyans can only wait, hope and pray, as the final assault begins.

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