Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Loyalist Counter-Offensive

TRIPOLI, Libya—Fierce fighting has broken out around Col. Moammar Gadhafi's main military compound in Tripoli on Tuesday, hours after the Libyan leader's son and heir apparent resurfaced to thwart rebel claims he had been captured and rally supporters.


Street battles between pro-Gadhafi troops and rebels were reported in several parts of the city, and the mood turned from one of euphoria to confusion and fear a day after opposition fighters swept into the capital with relative ease, claiming to have most of it under their control, the Associated Press reported.

Some of the heaviest fighting was around Col. Gadhafi's Bab al-Aziziya main compound and military barracks, AP reported, with both sides battling it out with heavy machine-guns, mortars and anti-aircraft guns. Thick clouds of gray and white smoke filled the Tripoli sky as the heavy gunfire and explosions shook several districts of the city of two million people.

A North Atlantic Treaty Organization spokesman said what is left of Col. Gadhafi's forces has shown "no sign of giving up their aggressive actions."

"The tensions are far from being over. The situation is dynamic and complex," said Col. Roland Lavoie.

NATO's mission will remain in effect until further notice, and the military alliance will continue to target forces that pose a threat to civilian populations, he said.

The surprise appearance of Seif el-Islam Gadhafi, seen as a possible successor to Col. Gadhafi and thought to have been captured by the rebels a day earlier, upset hopes of a rapid regime collapse, and caught international allies off guard. Seif el-Islam showed up at a Tripoli hotel early Tuesday morning local time and in a defiant move invited foreign journalists on a tour of the city, claiming the regime is winning the fight against the rebels.

Jubilation turned to uncertain disquiet late Monday in Libya's capital, with persistent reports of random shootings in the capital, with some pockets of outright fighting. Jeff Grocott has the latest on The News Hub.

"My father is safe and in Tripoli… They (rebels) said they control Libya, they can't. Tripoli is under our control," he told reporters.

Dia Alhutmany, a spokesman for the rebel-aligned Libyan Mission to the United Nations in New York, conceded that Seif el-Islam Gadhafi is still free, and the mission is trying to get clarification from the rebel-led National Transitional Council. On Monday, he had said Seif el-Islam had been captured and was in rebel hands.

"Anyway, whether he is arrested or still free, the regime is no longer (ruling) the country, and very soon he and his father will be captured," he said.

Rebels Reach Tripoli

Libya's rebel government-in-waiting on Monday declared itself the country's ruling power and rebel spokesmen had said anti-Gadhafi forces controlled 95% of the capital. But its announcement that it had captured several members of Col. Gadhafi's family was put in doubt by Seif el-Islam's appearance, and it remains unclear how many are still in custody. Col. Gadhafi's whereabouts are still unknown.

Seif el-Islam denied he was ever detained. "They stopped our media broadcast and waged a media and electronic war against us," Seif el-Islam told reporters at a press conference he held in the capital.

"They (rebels), tried to infiltrate through the sea... But Libyan people stood up and broke the rebels' back and have destroyed them," he said.

"I will take you (the press) on a tour in Tripoli in the most heated areas, and you will see that all is secure, the world will know it's secure," he added before inviting the press to follow him on a tour to several places where rebels claimed they had controlled. Col. Gadhafi's son later mocked rebels' reports that they'd hand him over to the International Criminal Court.

The convoy visited armed Gadhafi supporters at several locations in the capital and ended outside Col. Gadhafi's Bab al-Aziziya compound where dozens of loyalists had gathered, AP reported.

He told reporters that he had never been in the rebels' custody, a claim that had also been made by the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands. "The ICC can go to hell," Seif el-Islam said. "We are going to break the backbone of the rebels."

Mr. Alhutmany said another Gadhafi son, Mohammed, had been captured, but may have escaped rebel custody. He wasn't able to confirm reports of the capture of a third son, Saadi, and added that another son, Mutassim, may have escaped to the city of Sabha in the south.
"The only victory will be when Gadhafi is captured," Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the head of the Libyan rebels' National Transitional Council, told reporters in Benghazi on Monday.

"This is a shrewd man, unpredictable," added Ali Suleiman Aujali, Libya's former ambassador to the U.S. who now represents the rebel council in Washington. "We have to get him for the people to feel safe."

French leader Nicolas Sarkozy, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and others have called on Col. Gadhafi's forces to cease violence immediately. U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday said in an address from his vacation in Martha's Vineyard, Mass., that while events in Libya remained fluid, the Gadhafi regime was coming to an end. Oil companies began gearing up to resume operations in the country.

Libyan opposition efforts to unseat Col. Gadhafi have resulted, over the past six months, in the vast majority of the country falling under rebel control. After Gadhafi opponents living in the capital rose up Saturday and North Atlantic Treaty Organization air strikes destroyed defenses on the city's western edge, rebels stormed in on Sunday. Facing little resistance, they claimed Green Square with jubilant celebrations before midnight.

But on Monday, fighting soon flared around Col. Gadhafi's compound in central Tripoli, where loyalist tanks emerged to attack rebels trying to storm the compound, according to rebels in the city, and putting an end to celebrations and leaving the rebels with a fragile hold over much of the capital.

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