Libya's Rebels Are Feeling Bullish

A top Libyan official defects as the rebels take over a key supply route

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As Libyan rebels continue their offensive to isolate the capital of Tripoli, a series of tactical and symbolic victories have given the fighters cause for optimism. Libya's civil war has a long track record of dubious claims from both sides and there are real questions about the rebel movement's unity, but the day's news has brought several signs that Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi is on his heels:

The rebels are circling Tripoli. "Libyan rebels said on Monday they had seized a second strategic town near Tripoli within 24 hours, completing the encirclement of the capital in the boldest advances of their six-month uprising against Muammar Gaddafi," reports Michael Georgy at Reuters. "Gaddafi's forces fired mortars and rockets at the coastal town of Zawiyah a day after rebels captured its center in a thrust that severed the vital coastal highway from Tripoli to the Tunisian border, a potential turning point in the war."

Top Libyan official reported to defect. "A top security official in Moammar Gaddafi’s government arrived in Cairo on Monday in an apparent defection that buoyed opponents of the longtime Libyan leader," reports The Washington Post's Leila Fadel. She outlines the significance of the apparent defection:

Nasser al-Mabrouk Abdullah arrived from Tunisia on Monday morning with his family, according to officials in Egypt’s Interior Ministry. Egyptian and Libyan sources described him as a senior security official, but his exact title was not immediately clear; he was variously described as interior minister, deputy interior minister and deputy minister of security.

“He can’t talk to anyone right now because he is afraid someone will kill him,” said Yassin al-Samalousi, a leading Libyan opposition figure in Egypt. “He caused the deaths of so many Libyans, and he is afraid one of the rebels will try to assassinate him. . . . The rebels are tightening the leash around his neck. He is now surrounded, and Gaddafi has no way out except the sea and NATO is firing from the sea.”

Rebels are able to relax. "With the pressure now on Gaddafi's forces, rebels in the formerly besieged stronghold of Misrata were able to relax for the first time in months," reports The Guardian's Julian Borger and Chris Stephen and Richard Norton-Taylor:

"We feel good, things are moving," said Mohammed Elfeturi, 35, of the Faisal (Sword) brigade, alternately sipping his first coffee of the day and puffing his first cigarette. "We paid for it in blood."

Sabotage of oil terminal expected. In what may be a desperate attempt to thwart the rebels, "Forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi will destroy the oil terminal in Brega to prevent one of the country's most important economic lifelines falling into the hands of advancing rebels," rebels told Reuters on Monday:

The oil port of Brega has been the main front line in the east of the country for months. Rebels have seized the port's eastern residential areas since last week, but Gaddafi's forces still control its oil terminal, refinery and port.

Black smoke billowed over those areas on Monday, which the rebels said was a sign that Gaddafi's forces were already carrying out sabotage.

"We could be making $35 million a day from Brega port in exports of oil," the rebels' military spokesman, Ahmed Bani, told Reuters during a visit by reporters to the battle-scarred section of the town the rebels hold. "Because of that, Gaddafi will destroy it. Scorched earth. We know his mentality," Bani said.

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