Libyan rebels battle lingering resistance; Gadhafi still in hiding


TRIPOLI, Libya – Libyan rebels continued to fight for
control of the country Wednesday, clashing with supporters of Moammar
Gadhafi near the airport with the help of foreign special forces, as
journalists won their release from a hotel in the capital.

rockets landed near Tripoli International Airport, one apparently on
the runway, and rebel commander Mukhtar al-Akhbar told CNN that four
rebel fighters had been found bound and executed nearby.

NATO jets roared overhead amid explosions and automatic gunfire.

controlled the airport Wednesday but were struggling to capture an area
to the east, according to CNN. Rebel leaders told the network they
believed Gadhafi loyalists were trying to clear a route for the
69-year-old leader to escape.

whereabouts remained unknown Wednesday as his nearly 42-year rule
appeared to be coming to an end. Clashes also broke out Wednesday at the
vast Bab al-Aziziya complex from which Gadhafi ruled and outside the
Rixos hotel, where about 40 international journalists had been trapped
in recent days.

Soon after, CNN’s Matthew Chance
announced that the journalists had persuaded armed Gadhafi guards at the
hotel to release them. No one was injured, he said. They left in
vehicles supplied by the International Red Cross, he said, and were
staying at an undisclosed location.

immensely relieved that we’re out of there, all of us, and we’re
essentially driving to our freedom,” Chance said. Libyan rebel leaders
told Al-Jazeera Arabic television that they controlled 95 percent of the
country Wednesday, including the Bab al-Aziziya complex.

regime is 95 percent finished; 95 percent of Libya is under rebel
control,” Col. Abdallah abu Afra, a rebel spokesman, told Reuters. “He
who governs Libya is he who controls Bab Aziziya and that is the reality
of the matter. For us, Gadhafi is over.”

Many of
the rebel leaders were in Qatar for talks with Western and Arab envoys
about releasing frozen assets and reconstruction aid. The meetings
follow appeals by Libya’s rebel government, the National Transitional
Council, for $2.5 billion to begin rebuilding.

spokesmen in Benghazi said the council would move its headquarters from
Benghazi to Tripoli this week. Rebel leaders were also still scrambling
to find Gadhafi and his family. A $1.3 million reward for Gadhafi’s
capture was offered by a Benghazi businessman, who asked not to be
identified, Council Chairman Mustafa Abdel-Jalil told Reuters.

of his inner circle who kill Gadhafi or capture him, society will give
amnesty or pardon for any crime he has committed,” Abdel-Jalil told a
news conference Wednesday.

In a local radio
broadcast early Wednesday, Gadhafi said he had made a tactical
withdrawal from his compound, which he accused NATO of leveling with
airstrikes. He vowed to fight to the death. His last audio broadcast had
been Sunday. He was rumored to have moved to his tribal stronghold of
Sirte farther east along the Mediterranean, or perhaps to a hiding place
along the border with Chad or Algeria. Or perhaps he was on his way to
Venezuela, some speculated. A longtime acquaintance in Russia said he
had received a short telephone call in which Gadhafi said he was still
in Tripoli.

The fast-moving rebel takeover plunged
the capital into chaos, with celebratory fire from automatic weapons
continuing in the streets Wednesday. The red, black and green rebel flag
flew over Bab al-Aziziya, which President Ronald Reagan bombed in 1986.

is no fear anymore,” said Khaled Azwam, a man in his 30s, who sat in
his car with his wife and two sleeping children. They were waiting for
things to quiet down so they could return home safely. “Gadhafi is
almost gone.”

heavy fighting in recent days has taken a toll on the city’s civilians.
Dr. Fathi Arabi, an orthopedist at Tripoli’s Central Hospital, reported
between 50 and 100 dead and hundreds wounded at his facility alone by
Tuesday afternoon.

The North Atlantic Treaty
Organization, whose campaign of airstrikes has greatly aided the rebels,
reported some continued resistance from Gadhafi loyalists. A senior
NATO official told CNN on Wednesday that the war was “not over yet,
although it’s close.”

“We continue to watch for
flare-ups from around the country, where there are still going to be
pockets of resistance. We are also watching the chemical weapons and
Scud missiles to make sure they are not used in the endgame,” he said.

NATO official said rebels were aided by foreign special forces,
especially British forces, who have assisted rebel units by “helping
them get better organized to conduct operations,” the official said.

forces from Britain, France, Jordan and Qatar have traveled with rebel
units from towns across Libya as they advanced on Tripoli, the official
told CNN. The official, who asked not to be identified, said the troops
have helped rebels “improve their tactics.”

explosion of people power showed Libyans’ rage at a regime that made
them subject to Gadhafi’s whim. But it also exposed challenges for both
the rebel government in the eastern city of Benghazi, and for Western
officials who conducted a bombing campaign that greatly assisted the
rebel cause.

Evidence of lawlessness was pervasive
Wednesday. Young men armed with assault rifles staffed checkpoints ,
part of a whole class of newly armed men who may not be willing to hand
their weapons over to the authorities when the fighting is all over.

Gadhafi is accused of squandering the country’s vast oil wealth, oil
production ground to a halt during the conflict, and with it the
national economy. U.S. and European countries said Tuesday that they
were preparing to remove a freeze on billions of dollars in Libyan
assets to help rebel authorities restart the economy.


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