Tripoli residents awoke with jubilation and fear on Monday, asking for weapons to join rebels in their cat-and-mouse war with loyalists who have besieged the city with snipers and drive-by shootings.
The capital’s battle-scarred streets were all but empty as the sun rose on the long-dreamt of new Libya early Monday, the day after rebels made a lightning advance on the capital to get rid of defiant leader Moamer Kadhafi.
But rebel checkpoints were sparse, indicating they had not yet taken complete control of the city, as they awaited the arrival of thousands more freedom fighters from already liberated parts of the country.
The drab city’s concrete walls have been daubed with anti-Kadhafi and pro-revolutionary graffiti, demanding freedom for Libya and an end to the leader most people here consider insane.
There was confusion over whether it was best to travel quickly on the main thoroughfares, exposed to snipers in tall buildings, or slowly through the warren of tiny streets, without knowing what awaits around the next corner.
Civilians are exhausted after staying up most of the night, enjoying the food, drink and cigarettes that they must resist during the Ramadan days, despite the burning heat.
People in the southwestern Gorji neighbourhood, near where Kadhafi’s son Mohamed lives and was detained by rebels on Sunday, said they had welcomed the freedom fighters when they arrived.
“The rebels from the mountains and from Zawiyah are now in Martyrs’ Square (formerly Green Square) and the surrounding streets,” said Gorji resident Saad Zaidi, who has just returned from celebrations in the centre of town.
“But there are African snipers from Chad in the Old City, and sometimes you can hear mortars falling. But we don’t know where they’re being fired from.”
Gorji residents like Abdel Rahman Bin Jama, whose neighbourhood sheltered and treated a team of AFP journalists that came under sniper attack, want nothing else than to join the fight.
“I don’t have a weapon but we protect the neighbourhood because it’s ours. We don’t have enough weapons, but we all want weapons to get rid of the dictator. Everyone here is a fighter,” said Bin Jama.
“Even the women give us emotional support and they are so happy about what is going on now. You won’t find anyone here who supports Kadhafi.”
Residents, both armed and unarmed, are tense and jumpy about today’s uncertain situation yet happy about what they see as Kadhafi’s inevitable exit. They just need to get through the bloody transition.
“Gorji was the first neighbourhood that made anti-Kadhafi demonstrations, we’ve had 100 people arrested since the start of the revolution, but we haven’t had any news from them yet,” said Gorji resident Abubakr Wnees.
“State television said they would attack this area if we don’t give up. Kadhafi told a local sheikh (Muslim preacher) to tell people to fight in his name, but he refused and so they arrested him.”
Residents say that they know which neighbours support Kadhafi, but they are not seeking retribution.
“We know exactly who is with us and who is with Kadhafi, they are very few. We’ve just told them to stay at home.”