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Fresh Fighting Erupts in Libya Between Rebels and Regime

August 23, 2011

Fresh fighting has erupted in Tripoli hours after Muammar Qaddafi’s son turned up free to thwart rebel claims he had been captured and to rally supporters.

Rebels and forces loyal to the Libyan leader waged fierce street battles Tuesday, a day after opposition fighters swept into the capital with relative ease, claiming to have most of it under their control.

After a morning of heavy fighting near Muammar al-Qaddafi’s Tripoli compound, rebel forces control at least 95 percent of the capital city, though the whereabouts of the Libyan leader remain unknown.

Thick clouds of gray and white smoke filled the sky as heavy gunfire and explosions shook several districts of the city of 2 million people. Some of the heaviest fighting was around Qaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziya main compound and military barracks.

The reappearance of Seif al-Islam in Tripoli appears to have energized forces loyal to Qaddafi.

Earlier Tuesday, Saif al-Islam Qaddafi lead reporters on a tour of parts of Tripoli controlled by supporters of his father as rebels continued their fight to overtake the whole of the city.

“We are going to hit the hottest spots in Tripoli,” Saif told the media.

Rebels say they control most of Tripoli, but they faced pockets of fierce resistance from regime loyalists firing mortars and anti-aircraft guns. Rebel spokesman Mohammed Abdel-Rahman, who was in Tripoli, said the “danger is still there” as long as the longtime Libyan leader remains on the run.

He warned that pro-Qaddafi brigades are positioned on Tripoli’s outskirts and could “be in the middle of the city in half an hour.”

The one-time heir apparent appeared at a Libyan hotel early Tuesday morning despite widely circulated reports of his capture during the rebels’ move into Tripoli a day earlier. The rebels had reported that he and his brother, Muhammad al-Qaddafi had been captured Monday, but then said he had escaped.
It was not clear if Saif had allegedly escaped as well.

The rebel leadership seemed stunned that Saif was free. A spokesman, Sadeq al-Kabir, had no explanation and could only say, “This could be all lies.”

An International Criminal Court spokesman says the court never received official confirmation from Libya’s rebel authorities that they had arrested either of the brothers during their lightning push into Tripoli.

He arrived in a convoy with armed men at the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli and told Fox News that the rebels had been lured into a trap and that pro-Qaddafi forces will crush them. He also said his father remains in Tripoli and he is alive and helping to coordinate the defense of the city.

He also said his forces were winning the fight with the rebels.

Meanwhile, the Libyan leader was nowhere to be found Monday as his 42-year rule teetered on the brink of collapse.

The tour covered mainly the area that was known to still be under the regime’s control — the district around the Rixos hotel and nearby Bab al-Aziziya, Qaddafi’s residential compound and military barracks. The tour went through streets full of armed Qaddafi backers, controlled by roadblocks, and into the Qaddafi stronghold neighborhood Bu Slim.

At Bab al-Aziziya, at least a hundred men were waiting in lines for guns being distributed to volunteers to defend the regime. Saif al-Islam shook hands with supporters, beaming and flashing the “V for victory” sign.

“We are here. This is our country. This is our people, and we live here, and we die here,” he told AP Television News. “And we are going to win, because the people are with us. That’s why were are going to win. Look at them — look at them, in the streets, everywhere!”

When asked about the ICC’s claim that he was arrested by rebels, he told reporters: “The ICC can go to hell,” and added “We are going to break the backbone of the rebels.”

Months of NATO airstrikes have left his Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli largely demolished. Most of his security forces fled or surrendered when rebel forces rolled into the capital Sunday night and took control of most of the city.

In Benghazi, the de facto rebel capital hundreds of miles east of Tripoli, the head of the rebel National Transitional Council said the rebels have no idea where the 69-year-old Qaddafi is or whether he is even in Tripoli.

“The real moment of victory is when Qaddafi is captured,” Mustafa Abdel-Jalil said. An Obama administration official said the U.S. had no indication that Qaddafi had left Libya.

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