Rebels awaited counter-attack by Muammar Gaddafi’s forces on Monday, after the Libyan leader defied calls for him to quit in the hardest-fought of the Arab world’s wave of uprisings so far.
Rebels holding Zawiyah, only 50 km (30 miles) west of Tripoli, said about 2,000 troops loyal to Gaddafi had surrounded the city.
“We will do our best to fight them off. They will attack soon,” said a former police major who switched sides and joined the rebellion. “If we are fighting for freedom, we are ready to die for it.”
Residents even in parts of the capital have thrown up barricades against government forces. A general in the east of the country, where Gaddafi’s power has evaporated, told Reuters his forces were ready to help rebels in the west.
“Our brothers in Tripoli say: “We are fine so far, we do not need help’. If they ask for help we are ready to move,” said General Ahmed el-Gatrani, one of most senior figures in the mutinous army in Benghazi.
Analysts say they expect rebels to eventually take the capital and kill or capture Gaddafi, but add that he has the firepower to foment chaos or civil war — a prospect he and his sons have warned of.
Monday looked likely to see nervousness in oil markets. NYMEX crude for April delivery was up $1.12 at $99.00 barrel in Globex electronic trading by 2308 GMT on Sunday. Libya only pumps 2 percent of world oil and Saudi Arabia has boosted output, but traders fear turmoil intensifying in the Arab world.