Aug. 17 (Bloomberg) -- Libya’s rebel-held city of Misrata, under siege by forces loyal to Muammar Qaddafi for the past six months, is experiencing something new: traffic jams.
With rebels advancing toward the Libyan capital, Tripoli, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) to the west, honking horns and the voices of children playing in Misrata’s streets have replaced the explosions of incoming rockets and artillery shells.
“We are confident we are safe now,” English student Aisha Alifafer, 20, said in an interview yesterday. “We can go shopping and visit others. In the last six months we could not go outside and see the sun.”
The conflict in Libya entered its sixth month today with the rebels claiming advances on the battlefield after several weeks of stalemate. Qaddafi, who seized power in the oil-rich North African nation in a military coup in 1969, controls Tripoli and has told his followers to keep fighting even as the leader appears to be losing ground.
Rebel forces reached the nearby town of Tawarga to the east over the weekend, pushing government Grad missile launchers out of range and ending nightly attacks on downtown Misrata. In the west, opposition forces claim to be inside Zawiya, 35 miles from Tripoli.
Fighting continues to rage west of the town, with a daily rumble of gunfire from the front line, as rebel units struggle to capture Zlitan, an obstacle to a planned advance along the coastal highway to Tripoli.
“We feel good,” Mohammed Elfeturi, 35, a former oil engineer who is a fighter with the rebel Faisal brigade, said as he and his comrades broke the Ramadan fast at an outdoor café at sundown. “We have some success.”
Another fighter, Farouk Arifay, 20, credited airstrikes by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization for helping to weaken Qaddafi’s forces. In the nine days to Aug. 15, NATO claimed on its website to have destroyed 179 government military targets.
“We have to thank NATO,” he says. “NATO has been hitting their weapons day after day.”
Popular viewing in Misrata is the repeated screening on Libyan state television of Qaddafi’s Aug. 14 speech in which he said that “the blood of martyrs is fuel for the battle.” Another report said government troops are making gains and have taken two-thirds of Misrata.
“The television of Qaddafi is saying things that are desperate, hysterical,” said former Libyan diplomat Abdulrahman Ben-Naser, who returned from 26 years of exile to his home town last month.
Qaddafi “is finished,” said Mahmoud Abushaala, owner of a city photographic shop. “In any war, the one who has the air and the ground is the one who is going to win.”
--With assistance from Caroline Alexander in London. Editors: Karl Maier, Louis Meixler
To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Stephen in Misrata through the Dubai newsroom at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at email@example.com.