Inside Tripoli's Rixos hotel as rebels close in
- 22 August 2011
- From the section Africa
When it came it came with astonishing speed.
No-one predicted how fast Libya's rebel forces would, indeed could move into the capital unopposed.
But 24 hours after the first heavy fighting erupted in Tripoli - on Saturday night - the signs were there for all to see.
First there were the children and the wives of Col Muammar Gaddafi's officials packing and leaving the five-star Rixos hotel.
The Rixos is the place where the government has obliged foreign journalists to stay when reporting on this conflict.
Over the months it became a government hangout. A place of refuge and safety for them where Col Gaddafi's information minister held regular news conferences.
Now the relatives of senior officials were going, heading presumably somewhere safer.
Then I noticed the translators we have been working with for months now had also left. So too the state television staff who have worked out of here since their headquarters were bombed by Nato.
These were ominous signs of the battle to come.
Flak jacket dinner
Then fierce fighting broke out outside the hotel, drawing closer. Since Saturday evening the sound of gunfire and explosions had echoed across the city. Now it was heading towards us.
For several hours heavy weapons rocked the building. Bullets whistled overhead, whining through the fading light.
We gathered - the international media together - to work out what we might do. Body armour on, escape routes chosen. No route to the port, no boats there to take us out anyway.
Then the hotel chef came up and asked us if we would like dinner.
We dined in flak jackets - helmets by our side. And as the Iftar meal, the breaking of the fast ended, so too did the relative silence.
Heavy weapons opened up again, explosions outside the hotel.
Pro-Gaddafi forces set up a checkpoint on the road outside. We were trapped inside a target for the rebels.
Libyan Information Minister Moussa Ibrahim called perhaps his final news conference.
Nato was destroying his country, he said. He appealed for a ceasefire - otherwise there would be huge loss of life, he told us.
Outside in the hotel lobby one of the younger armed men was shouting at a member of the media, accusing him of calling in information to the rebels. We edged away from him and his AK-47.
In another corner the quiet and polite Dr Aguila - the man who was in charge of the foreign press for the Libyan government - walked past me, still in the casual untucked shirt he wears, but now clutching a gun.
Last week he told me that he was prepared if needed to head to the front line to defend his country. Too late I thought.
But was this the much-heralded "endgame"?
On Sunday afternoon Moussa Ibrahim told me 65,000 professional and trained soldiers loyal to Col Gaddafi were inside the capital ready to rise up and defend Tripoli.
Had the rebels fallen into a trap? Perhaps as they advanced into the city, they would be encircled and fired upon. Pro-Gaddafi troops have used that tactic before.
Slowly though it became clear. Green Square where last week I stood with Gaddafi supporters pledging the capital would never, could never fall, was in opposition hands.
Col Gaddafi's son, once his assumed successor, Saif al-Islam had been arrested.
Opposition checkpoints were holding firm in sizeable areas of Tripoli. Col Gaddafi's capital was falling from his grasp.
As I write this, there are still battles to be had. Outside the Rixos hotel we still don't believe the streets are safe. And Gaddafi men are outside with guns, waiting. We still can't leave.
Elsewhere I can hear gunfire - not in celebration, but in battle.
There are many, many residents of this city who tonight are not out for the party, but cowering at home.
They are not just the people who until yesterday proudly flew the green flag of Col Gaddafi's Libya from their rooftops, but also the families who wonder about the continued fighting outside their front door - and those who fear tribal differences will now emerge within the opposition, harming the chance of a peaceful transition.
There is still that ominous possibility that Col Gaddafi, a man who in his four decades in power has ably demonstrated his ability to brutalise and punish his people, may yet strike back.
But right now it doesn't look possible.
Right now it looks as though another unpopular Arab regime has fallen victim to the Arab Spring.