Life at the Tripoli Corinthia amid the tension
The young Dutch woman repeatedly sobbed "Why am I going to die?" in the marbled interior of a luxury Tripoli hotel as the battle for the Libyan capital raged today, rattling nerves.
The tall, blonde Amsterdamer arrived 10 days ago as the guest of one of leader Muammar Gaddafi's sons and was convinced rebels were going to rape and kill her, despite the reassurances of her female Libyan diplomat minder.
A group, including an AFP correspondent, had made a treacherous journey to the five-star Corinthia Hotel on the coast, having been told it was held by rebels engaged in fierce battles shifting around the city.
It was not under rebel control, and the group were unsure whether to stay with the other guests -- mostly wealthy and now fearful members of Gaddafi's privileged clique -- or go.
Drivers and interpreters also became nervous. They were expecting to be welcomed by brotherly freedom fighters. Instead, they came face-to-face with the human and material symbols of the despised regime.
"They look at us with such hatred," said one driver, as they wondered what would happen to them if Gaddafi's troops turned up, as they had earlier the same morning.
The vast stairs leading up the hotel's entrance could be seen from numerous surrounding high rises, each window could conceal a sniper with his or her finger on the trigger.
Gone was the jubilation of Sunday when rebels poured into the capital. Today every street and major building was a potential new front in the battle for Tripoli.
A small group of lightly-armed rebels approached and hotel staff told them there was nothing for them. They went away, but not before hacking down one of Gaddafi's green flags flying outside the hotel.
The sound of gunfire, small and large calibre, rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and even anti-aircraft fire echoed around the man-made concrete and glass canyons, the fruit of Libya's vast and unfairly distributed oil wealth.
The towering skyscrapers of downtown are in sharp contrast with the dusty streets where most of the capital's residents live.
Hotel staff were also nervous and stressed, sweating in the unaccustomed heat of the defunct air conditioning. "I have no information," said a receptionist, beads of sweat gathering on his stony face.
Everyone's nervousness and the general lack of security made the group decide to take a chance on the road back to the poor and welcoming neighbourhood from which they came.
Back in the cars, the group hurtled along the coastal road, where beach parasols flapped gently in the sea breeze. A few hundred metres (yards) felt an eternity through a warzone.
The driver shouted "Allahu Akbar" (God is greatest) when he turned a corner or as he crossed open spaces where rebels were hunkered down trying to pinpoint from where they were being shot at.
The streets were otherwise empty, apart from improvised barriers and burnt-out car wrecks, victims of RPG attacks. Exhausted rebels rested under motorway flyovers, flashing smiles and V-for-victory signs.
The group reached the relative safety of the southwestern Gorji neighbourhood, at the same home which had welcomed them in the morning, where their host was pleased but had bad news.
Some of his relatives were travelling across town earlier when they came upon a Gaddafi checkpoint near his Bab al-Azizya compound, scene of the fiercest fighting.
The loyalists opened fire on the family, killing the host's sister-in-law, her six-year-old daughter and his five-year-old nephew. His sister was shot in the arm and was being treated by a nurse in the neighbourhood.
"This is life. But they did not die for nothing," said our host. "They are my family, but so are all the other thousands killed by Gaddafi."
AMERICAN SHOT OUTSIDE HOTEL
On Sunday, an American American activist in Tripoli was shot by a sniper outside the Corinthia after going for a bicycle ride around the capital.
Franklin Lamb, Director of Americans for Middle East Peace, who is a guest at the Corinthia, told the media that there was "some bombing, some machine gunfire" in the streets but the situation was otherwise "relatively calm."
"I was out in Tripoli on a bicycle for 90 minutes and when I came back, walking by the swimming pool of this hotel, I was shot in my right leg," he said in a statement to Russia Today.
"The doctor gave me the bullet as a souvenir. I'm fine but there was suggestion that the sniper was on the Marriot Hotel (across the road). That's unconfirmed."
Lamb said that most of the staff at the Corinthial had failed to show up for work today (Monday).
Meanwhile, a Libyan independent news channel has reported some looting at Palm City, the village for expatriates operated by the Corinthia just outside Tripoli, but there was no confirmation of the report.