5:53pm

Fri August 19, 2011
Africa

Libyan Rebels Celebrate Takeover Of Another Key City

The Libyan rebels have been on the move this week.

In Gheryan, an important city south of the capital Tripoli, it seemed everyone was celebrating Friday. Women, children, young men, older men and even white-haired grandfathers.

They jumped into trucks and cars and flashed the victory sign to each other in an impromptu parade. The city, which straddles the main road south from Tripoli, was a garrison for Moammar Gadhafi's forces for the past six months. From Gheryan, the military would resupply forces for the frequent battles in the country's Western Mountains.

But no longer.

The rebels have the city now, and throughout the country, rumors are swirling that Gadhafi may be looking for a way out. The territory under his sway is shrinking and the rebels now have him blocked to the east, west and south. Meanwhile, NATO jets continue to strike.

"Gadhafi is surrounded," said Adel Saghar, who fought for Gheryan. Gadhafi's forces abandoned many weapons as they fled the city.

"Does it look like they left very fast?" asked Saghar. "They left very fast, and they left everything behind."

A Quick Rebel Victory

He said it took the rebels on a few hours to capture the main part of the city, and then a few days to clear Gheryan completely of Gadhafi loyalists. The swift collapse of Gadhafi's forces shocked even the rebels.

The main military base in Gheryan was one of the most feared in all of the Western Mountains. The commander, Mabrouk Sahban, ran the place for many years. The brigade here was named after him and he was regarded as one of the most powerful commanders in all of Libya. Now his office is a burned wreck.

With the fighting over, Muftah el-Arabi reopened his camera store in the city. He said Gadhafi's forces used to come into his shop and demand services for free. He still hasn't adjusted to the dramatic changes.

"At this moment, I am very afraid," he said. "Why? For 42 years, I am afraid of Mr. Gadhafi."

Rebels Form Council

Fear has been so ingrained in the minds of many Libyans that it is difficult to let go. But some are already planning for the future.

On Thursday night, the new rebel council in Gheryan met for the first time, and their first order of business is to get the city back to normal.

"We will ask people to open the shops and go back to their normal life so that they will feel safe," said Mahmoud Tawfiq, a member of the council. "We will think about how to supply our people with food and fuel, all their needs."

But that will take some time, he admits. Many supplies for the city have to make a long journey from Tunisia. And there's still fighting nearby. Mourners came to bury a young man who was killed Thursday by a sniper.

Faisal Jelani was at the graveside, and said the snipers were actually from Gheryan. "I don't know why they did this," said Jelani, adding that he knows one of the snipers personally. "Most of the snipers are from here. They lived with us."

Jelani says these divisions will be hard to heal. The sniper who was once Jelani's friend is now being held by the rebels, and Jelani says he hopes they hang him for what he did.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.