TRIPOLI, Libya – Fighters extending rebel control secured Libya’s main border crossing into Tunisia and pressed loyalists in southwest Tripoli on Friday while preparing to attack Moammar Gadhafi’s tribal homeland.
In Tripoli, rebels from the countryside and local militiamen maintained a tight grip as they hunted for Gadhafi loyalists and for the leader. The man who ruled Libya for 42 years has disappeared without a trace after his Bab Al-Azizya compound was sacked earlier this week.
Rebels aided by NATO airstrikes seized nearly all of the capital earlier this week after a six-month guerrilla war, setting off jubilation but also raising questions about the ability of the transitional authorities to govern. Security woes and supply shortages plague Tripoli and the Transitional National Council, the interim body based in the eastern city of Benghazi, has yet to assert control.
Rebels said they had wrested control of Ras Ajdir, the main border crossing between Libya and Tunisia, and a key supply line to the capital, a claim confirmed by Tunisia’s official news agency. Capturing the dusty border town marks a major victory for Gadhafi’s opponents. If rebels manage to secure the road between Ras Ajdir and the capital, they will be able to alleviate food, medicine and fuel shortages.
Rebels were reportedly preparing to launch a major offensive against the coastal city of Surt, the base of Gadhafi’s tribe and a bastion of support for the leader. According to news accounts, the two main tribes in the city rejected a proposal from the rebels to negotiate a surrender. NATO forces struck areas in and around Surt.
Rebels also battled suspected regime loyalists in the southwestern Tripoli district of Salahadin that long has been known for its loyalty to Gadhafi. He showered its poor inhabitants with perks that stoked class and tribal resentments, which are now coming to the fore.