Rebels celebrate after airstrikes on Khadafy’s forces
BENGHAZI, Libya — Residents of the rebel stronghold of Benghazi yesterday 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 Khadafy’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 US airstrikes on Khadafy’s forces overnight, gave the city — and its defenders — a newfound swagger.
“I feel like in two days max we will destroy Khadafy,’’ said Ezzeldin Helwani, 35, standing next to the smoldering wreckage of an armored personnel carrier, the air thick with smoke and the pungent smell of burning rubber.
Mohammed Faraj, 44, a rebel fighter manning a checkpoint, said the rebels were now ready for anything from Khadafy.
“Our spirits are very high,’’ said Faraj, a grenade in each hand. “Me and all of Benghazi, we will die before Khadafy sets foot here again.’’
Some 12 miles south down the road, the charred remains of seven government tanks, many with their turrets blown off, lay in a dusty field along with two armored personnel carriers, hit by an allied airstrike overnight.
“Thank you France, thank you America,’’ said Abdul Gader Dejuli, surveying the wreckage. “Obama good, Sarkozy good.’’
“Yesterday was a catastrophe,’’ said Salwa el-Daghili, a member of the opposition national council that governs rebel-held territory. “Today, there is hope — you can see it on the streets.’’