BENGHAZI, Libya – Residents of the rebel stronghold of Benghazi on Sunday fired AK-47s in jubilation and danced on burnt-out tanks that appeared to have been destroyed by allied airstrikes.
The celebrations marked a dramatic swing from the fear that gripped the city of nearly 700,000 a day earlier, when Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s forces pounded the city with artillery and tank shells and punched through the outskirts of Benghazi in fierce street fighting.
After weeks of ceding territory to government troops, the rebels’ successful defense, coupled with French and U.S. airstrikes on Gadhafi’s forces overnight, gave the city – and its defenders – a newfound swagger.
“I feel like in two days max we will destroy Gadhafi,” said Ezzeldin Helwani, standing next to the smoldering wreckage of an armored personnel carrier.
Mohammed Faraj, a 44-year-old rebel fighter manning a checkpoint, said the rebels were now ready for anything from Gadhafi.
“Our spirits are very high,” said Faraj, a grenade in each hand. “Me and all of Benghazi, we will die before Gadhafi sets foot here again.”