BENGHAZI, Libya — The mood in Benghazi swings between celebration and chaos today, a day after Western forces began air strikes on Gaddafi tanks south of the city limits.
U.S., British and French forces have fired on Libya from the air and sea over the past 24 hours, two days after the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 1973 that authorized the Allies to "take all necessary measures" to prevent Gaddafi's forces from attacking civilians.
"Operation Odyssey Dawn" is the West's biggest intervention in the Arab world since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq eight years ago.
As the air strikes continued this morning on a column of armored vehicles 30 kilometers south, rebel soldiers packed into a square in the city center, spraying the air with victory shots.
There are reports that some bullets were being aimed at suspected remnants of the regime, but it is hard to confirm those claims, given the fact that so many guns are in the hands of untrained, jubilant soldiers.
Mohammad Forjan, 40, said he heard the planes south of the city. He came just to see, he said, inspecting rocket casings loyalist troops had used to shell the outskirts of the city.
GlobalPost saw the smoking wreckage of five tanks and eight or so charred bodies in this area, 30 km south of Benghazi. Men crowded around the tanks and took pictures, then jumped into their cars to inspect other bombed vehicles.
Libyans here praise the French for being the first to intervene.
“We’re very happy of the French,” said Hamis Juma, 39, a petroleum engineer. He said rebels were on his rooftop shooting at Gaddafi tanks yesterday. Today he came out to see what Gaddafi’s troops left behind.
“Honestly, first of all, I’d like to thank the French, then British, later on the Americans,” said Khalifa Al Faton, 33, a doctor touring the battle damage. “We felt alone. … The Germans, a big shame on them.”
Al Faton said the strikes are not enough. The embattled cities of Misrata, Zitan and Zawiya in the west need help quickly, he said.
Some are suspicious of American intentions.
“Americans we don’t want to come here because we see what they did in Iraq,” said 20-year-old Mohammed Saloma, a student.
Ali Muhashhash, 26, agreed. “Yeah, I’m happy but I’m more worried about the future,” he said. “We know nothing is for freedom. We don’t need a situation with the U.S.A. as in Iraq. There’s a big question why the U.S.A. stays there.”
The following is a video containing graphic images from fighting in Benghazi on Saturday:
Locals crowding around the charred bodies south of Benghazi said that they were the bodies of Algerians and Malian mercenaries, though they were burned beyond recognition.
Several bystanders admitted they were happy to see the deaths.
“I’m sad some Libyans [fighting] for Gaddafi also died [in these strikes],” said Saloma. “They don’t see TV, Al Jazeera. Gaddafi told them they were fighting Al Qaeda.”
There are rumors that rebels have executed some Gaddafi collaborators.
“They executed seven ‘Lejen Thawriya’ [the term for Gaddafi’s secret police] yesterday,” said Dr. Hamza Mousa, an Egyptian who came weeks ago to support the revolutionaries.
A civilian spokesman for the revolutionary committee vehemently denied the executions at a press conference last night. An interpreter working with GlobalPost was taken by revolutionaries to the courthouse for questioning, after interviewing people in the square about the supposed executions.
Many locals are paranoid since plain-clothes, pro-Gaddafi forces have been fighting a low-scale urban war in Benghazi for the past few days, shooting at civilians in their houses and cars. GlobalPost confirmed bullet holes and blood trails, but not the source of the shooting. Teens holding little more than Molotov cocktails peer into every car at roadblocks made of scrap metal and steel drums.
GlobalPost saw crowds of young rebels dragging suspected Gaddafi collaborators from pick ups and shoving them towards the old courthouse, where they appear to be holding prisoners temporarily.