TRIPOLI, Libya — The trappings of Moammar Gadhafi's regime crumbled Sunday as hundreds of euphoric Libyan rebels overran a major military base defending the capital, carted away truckloads of weapons and raced to the outskirts of Tripoli with virtually no resistance.
The rebels' surprising and speedy leap forward, after six months of largely deadlocked civil war, was packed into just a few dramatic hours. By nightfall, they had advanced more than 20 miles to the edge of Gadhafi's last major bastion of support.
Along the way, they freed several hundred prisoners from a regime lockup. The fighters and the prisoners — many looking weak and dazed and showing scars and bruises from beatings — embraced and wept with joy.
Thousands of jubilant civilians rushed out of their homes to cheer the long convoys of pickup trucks packed with rebel fighters shooting in the air. Some were hoarse, shouting: "We are coming for you, frizz-head," a mocking nickname for Gadhafi. In villages along the way that fell to the rebels one after another, mosque loudspeakers blared "Allahu Akbar," or "God is great."
"We are going to sacrifice our lives for freedom," said Nabil al-Ghowail, a 30-year-old dentist holding a rifle in the streets of Janzour, a suburb just six miles west of Tripoli. Heavy gunfire erupted nearby.
As town after town fell and Gadhafi forces melted away, the mood turned euphoric. Some shouted: "We are getting to Tripoli tonight." Others were shooting in the air, honking horns and yelling "Allahu Akbar."
Inside Tripoli, widespread clashes erupted for a second day between rebel "sleeper cells" and Gadhafi loyalists. Rebels fighter who spoke to relatives in Tripoli by phone said hundreds rushed into the streets in anti-regime protests in several neighborhoods.
Libyan state television aired an angry audio message from Gadhafi Sunday night, urging families in Tripoli to arm themselves and fight for the capital.
"The time is now to fight for your politics, your oil, your land," he said. "I am with you in Tripoli — together until the ends of the earth," Gadhafi shouted.
The day's first breakthrough came when hundreds of rebels fought their way into a major symbol of the Gadhafi regime — the base of the elite 32nd Brigade commanded by Gadhafi's son, Khamis. Fighters said they met with little resistance.
Hundreds of rebels cheered wildly and danced as they took over the compound filled with eucalyptus trees, raising their tricolor from the front gate and tearing down a large billboard of Gadhafi.
Inside, they cracked open wooden crates labeled "Libyan Armed Forces" and loaded their trucks with huge quantities of munitions. One of the rebels carried off a tube of grenades, while another carted off two mortars.
"This is the wealth of the Libyan people that he was using against us," said Ahmed al-Ajdal, 27, pointing to his haul. "Now we will use it against him and any other dictator who goes against the Libyan people."
One group started up a tank, drove it out of the gate, crushing the median of the main highway and driving off toward Tripoli. Rebels celebrated the capture with deafening amounts of celebratory gunfire, filling the air with smoke.
Across the street, rebels raided a huge warehouse, making off with hundreds of crates of rockets, artillery shells and large-caliber ammunition. The warehouse had once been using to storage packaged foods, and in the back, cans of beans were still stacked toward the ceiling.
The prisoners had been held in the walled compound and when the rebels rushed in, they freed more than 300 of them.