In a written statement, President Obama said: “Tonight, the momentum against the Qadhafi regime has reached a tipping point. Tripoli is slipping from the grasp of a tyrant.”
Early Monday there were reports of heavy clashes near Gaddafi’s compound. Rebel spokesman Mohammed Abdel-Rahman said that tanks had emerged from the complex and began firing, AP said.
Only a few residents in Tripoli ventured out to greet the rebels, and there was an overall sense of nervousness on Green Square. Posters of Gaddafi had been ripped to pieces, and young men were shooting off guns and fireworks.
In a brief broadcast on state television, Gaddafi made what came across as a desperate plea for support. “Go out and take your weapons,” the Libyan leader said. “All of you, there should be no fear.”
The rebel advance had unfolded with surprising speed throughout the day as fighters converged on the capital from three directions. In areas under rebel control, opposition flags fluttered, while jubilant residents honked horns, set off fireworks and stomped on posters of Gaddafi.
With communications to the capital sporadic, some rebel claims could not be confirmed, and some experts cautioned that a tough urban battle may yet lie ahead between the lightly armed and untrained rebels and the elite government forces kept in reserve for the defense of the capital.
But reporters traveling with rebel forces said Gaddafi’s defenses were melting away faster than had been expected. There were reports of entire units fleeing as rebels entered the capital from the south, east and west, and his supporters inside the city tearing off their uniforms, throwing down their weapons and attempting to blend into the population.
A Tripoli-based activist said the rebels had secured the seaport, where several hundred reinforcements for the opposition had arrived by boat, and were in the process of evicting Gaddafi loyalists from the Mitiga air base on the eastern edge of the city.
“The Gaddafi regime is clearly crumbling,” said a statement issued by NATO, whose five-month-old aerial bombing campaign, ostensibly launched to protect civilians from attacks by the government, contributed enormously to the erosion of Gaddafi’s defenses.
NATO said Monday it will continue its combat patrols over Libya until Gaddafi loyalists surrender or return to barracks.
A U.S. official closely tracking intelligence reports from Tripoli said there was no independent confirmation of reports that Gaddafi’s sons had been captured but added that events were moving so rapidly that confirmation was difficult. The official said rebel forces appeared to be benefiting not only from strong momentum but also from smart strategic planning going into the capital.