Heavy gunfire and explosions have been reported in the Libyan capital, and according to rebel commanders, the firing signals the start of a final onslaught on Muammar Gadaffi’s stronghold.
Earlier NATO-backed rebels in Libya said that a battle for the capital Tripoli could unfold by the end of the month, as they had taken key cities around the Gaddafi stronghold. However, rounds have been fired close to a hotel where foreign journalists are staying on Saturday evening. Explosions were heard in the area as NATO aircraft carried out heavy bombing runs after nightfall, the Associated Press reported.
Rebels were reported to be fighting in the city’s Tajoura neighborhood, as well as near Tripoli’s international airport. There have been reports that fighting also broke out in the neighborhoods of Soug Jomaa and Arada in the east.
But eyewitnesses say the gunfire is sporadic and the explosions heard are victory celebrations of Gaddafi loyalists.
Independent journalist Lizzie Phelan says the reports are an effort by NATO to create panic.
“The only gunfire that we are hearing is celebratory gunfire,” she said. “And the only explosions that we are hearing are NATO air strikes or NATO sound bombs, which are clearly designed to create a sense of panic in the capital city of Tripoli.”