Key Victories Build Libyan Rebels' Momentum

Libya's six-month-long civil war may well be in its final days. Rebel fighters appear to be in their strongest position yet, as Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi becomes more isolated. Guest host Jacki Lyden talks with NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro.

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JACKI LYDEN, host: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden in for Scott Simon. Libya's six-month-long civil war may well be in its final days. Rebel fighters have wrested control of the key coastal of Zawiyah, and rebels are also closing in on the capital of Tripoli, Moammar Gadhafi's stronghold. Opposition forces appear to be in their strongest position yet as Libyan dictator Gadhafi becomes more isolated. For the latest, NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro joins us from Zawiyah. Lulu, what's going on?

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, what I can tell you is right now I am in Martyr's Square, the central square in Zawiyah, which was fought over so bitterly for so many days. And you can see the scars of that everywhere. I'm standing in front of a hotel where royalists had been holed up for several days and there were several sniper nests. And it is a wreck. It's completely blackened and the windows are blown out. In fact, all around me the scars of battle are very evident indeed. This square was a very important square; it has a symbolic meaning for the people of Zawiyah. It is where the uprising here began. It was where it was crushed last March by Gadhafi's forces. And new they've taken it back. But beyond that, we are being told by rebels that they have managed to push Gadhafi's forces outside of Zawiyah completely, so that means, they are saying, that Zawiyah has been, in their words, liberated.

LYDEN: Well as you mentioned, they have newly retaken this. Does this have significance for their advance toward Tripoli?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It is indeed. I mean Zawiyah was one of the most important cities to take, simply because of its proximity. It's 30 miles away from the capital, and we're being told that they've pushed Gadhadi forces about seven to 10 miles out of town. However, this city still is being rocketed fairly heavily. I can hear the thuds in the distance all around me, and civilians have fled. I mean, I've been driving around the city and it is completely empty in most of the areas. The few people who do remain have been celebrating though, honking their horns, giving the V for victory sign. They say that this city is now theirs.

LYDEN: Lulu, what role has NATO played today?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All through this the rebels could not have advanced the way they have without NATO paving the way. NATO has been stepping up its aerial bombardment of targets, not only around battleground here in Zawiyah, but certainly in Tripoli. We know that yesterday they hit the chief intelligence officer of Gadhafi, Abdullah Sinussi's house. So they are being extremely active and that has helped the rebels move forward. We've heard NATO planes circling overhead today and they have been active.

LYDEN: Have you had a chance to talk to anyone leaving the city?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yes, certainly. I mean there are still rebel fighters here. There are a few families that have remained here throughout the battle. But we know from many of the people that we've spoken to is that the battle for Zawiyah was very bitter and fierce and of course it caused a lot of casualties. But they have managed to liberate the city, they say, in a matter of days. They were expecting this city of 200,000 people to be a bitter urban battle that could have dragged on. They came into this city last Saturday and now a week later they have total control of it, which shows that the rebels have the momentum right now. They are headed towards the city of Tripoli; that is their ultimate target. They know that they will not hold the country if they do not hold the capital.

LYDEN: NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro. Thank you very much for checking in.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome.

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