Rebels and families across this seaside eastern city fired rifles, climbed to rooftops, danced and sped through streets with flags flapping out windows early Friday to celebrate the United Nations’ imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya.
It was a stunning, joyous scene in rebel territory where people in recent days had become distraught and angry with the international community for not aiding an insurgency against the Libyan leader, who has unleashed brutal air attacks on cities and towns. The U.N. resolution instantly turned bitterness and fear into a sense of impending victory.
“We will go to Benghazi and then march to Tripoli,” said Abdullah Uma, holding a shotgun while driving a car loaded with young, cheering men. “Kadafi is done.”
The streets of this North African city, the scene of critical battles during World War II, became littered with bullet casings as red tracers streaked through the night sky and boys climbed onto the shoulders of their fathers and smiled. Mothers wept.
“We will be free, and we will celebrate until morning,” Hesham Mobakabia said as he loaded his Kalashnikov.
Opposition fighters had been in retreat over the last week as Kadafi’s army and warplanes pushed closer to the rebels’ Benghazi stronghold. The rebels had been unable to counter the Libyan army’s air superiority, which cleared the way for tank and artillery barrages and the advances of government troops.
“We will be saved now,” said Mansour Khamis, a bearded fighter standing in fatigues and wielding a rifle. “Kadafi wanted to eat us like animals. But no more.”
The no-fly zone may shift momentum to the passionate but poorly trained and lightly armed rebels. Several weeks ago, rebel units pushed west toward the capital, Tripoli, but were forced to retreat from key oil cities such as Ras Lanuf.
They have since been awaiting a Kadafi onslaught on Benghazi, but without planes, the Libyan leader will have a more difficult time putting down a rebellion seeking to end his four-decade rule.
Swagger and bravado, which only days ago seemed to have slipped away, suddenly returned as the early morning air filled with hollers, laughing and bullets.
“We feel power inside,” said Mustafa Ali. “Nobody knows what will come tomorrow, but, God willing, we will win.”