TRIPOLI, Libya -- Libyan rebels claimed to be in control of most of the Libyan capital on Monday after their lightning advance on Tripoli heralded the fall of Moammar Gadhafi's nearly 42-year regime. Scattered battles erupted, and the mercurial leader's whereabouts remained unknown.
The international community called on Gadhafi to step down and moved ahead with post-war planning as euphoric residents celebrated in the Green Square, the symbolic heart of the Gadhafi regime. Colleagues warned he wouldn't go easily. Two of his sons were captured late Sunday.
"The real moment of victory is when Gadhafi is captured," the head of the opposition's National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, said at a news conference in the eastern city of Benghazi.
NATO promised to maintain its air campaign until all pro-Gadhafi forces surrender or return to barracks. NATO warplanes have hit at least 40 targets in and around Tripoli in the past two days - the highest number on a single geographic location since the bombing started more than five months ago, the alliance said.
"We came out today to feel a bit of freedom," Ashraf Halaby, a 30-year-old Tripoli resident, said as he and four of his friends watched several hundred people celebrating at Green Square. "We still don't believe that this is happening."
Revelers flashed the "V" for victory sign and motorists circled the square's central median honking their horns and waving rebel flags.
The rest of the city, a metropolis of some 2 million people on the Mediterranean coast, was on edge, with most stores shuttered and large areas appeared lifeless, without even a sign of the thousands of rebels now in the city.
Signs of tension emerged between rebels and residents at a gas station in the neighborhood of Gourji, with heated arguments over who should fill up first after rebels cut in line. Rebel leaders urged people to protect public property, and no looting was reported.
The rapid rebel advance into Tripoli in an hours-long blitz showcased the evolution of the opposition fighters who first rose against the regime six months ago, swiftly capturing the eastern part of the vast, oil-rich North African nation but failing to advance westward toward Tripoli even with the help of months of NATO airstrikes.
For months, the rebels - mainly civilian volunteers who took up arms and had little military training - were judged to be big on zeal but short on organization and discipline, but their stunning success in Tripoli showed a high level of planning, coordination and discipline.
The U.S. and other nations have recognized the National Transitional Council as Libya's legitimate government, but the rebel movement consists of Islamists as well as former government insiders and Western-leaning intellectuals, raising concern about whether the factions can unite in a post-Gadhafi Libya.
Abdel-Jalil sought to allay those worries at a news conference in the rebel capital of Benghazi, saying the opposition wanted a nation built on the principles of "freedom, equality and transparency."
In London, British Prime Minister David Cameron said frozen Libyan assets would soon be released to help the country's rebels establish order, saying Gadhafi's regime was "falling apart and in full retreat."
Rebel spokesman Mohammed Abdel-Rahman, who was in Tripoli, warned of pockets of resistance and said as long as Gadhafi remains on the run the "danger is still there."
Clashes broke out early Monday at Gadhafi's longtime command center known as Bab al-Aziziya early Monday when government tanks emerged from the complex and opened fire at rebels trying to get in, according to Abdel-Rahman and a neighbor. An AP reporter at the nearby Rixos Hotel where foreign journalists stay heard gunfire and loud explosions from the direction of the complex.
Moammar al-Warfali, whose family home is next to the Gadhafi compound, said there appeared to be only a few tanks belonging to the remaining Gadhafi forces that have not fled or surrendered.
"When I climb the stairs and look at it from the roof, I see nothing at Bab al-Aziziya," he said. "NATO has demolished it all and nothing remains."
The Rixos hotel where foreign journalists are staying also remained under the control of Gadhafi forces, with two trucks loaded with anti-aircraft machine guns and pro-regime fighters and snipers posted behind trees. Rebels and Tripoli residents set up checkpoints elsewhere in the city.
Britain's Defense Secretary Liam Fox said resistance was coming mainly from foreign mercenaries, rather than Libyans still loyal to Gadhafi. "There is a certain amount of violence still occurring, we also know that a lot of the resistance from the pro-Gadhafi forces has in fact come from mercenary elements," he told BBC radio.
"It does appear that a lot of the Libyan forces themselves inside Tripoli either stayed at home or put down their arms - and that may bode well for a diminishing level of violence during the transitional period," he said.
The rebels' top diplomat in London, Mahmud Nacua, said opposition forces controlled 95 percent of Tripoli. He vowed "the fighters will turn over every stone to find" Gadhafi and make sure he faced justice.
A rebel field commander said reinforcements were arriving in Tripoli by sea from the north, south and southeast.
"Our fighters are coming from all directions and, God willing, today we will liberate the whole city," the commander, Suleiman Sifaw, told The Associated Press.
State TV broadcast bitter audio pleas by Gadhafi for Libyans to defend his regime as the rebels advanced on Sunday, although the station was off the air by Monday afternoon amid reports that the rebels had seized its main offices.
Opposition fighters captured Gadhafi's son and one-time heir apparent, Seif al-Islam, who along with his father faces charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands. Another son, Mohammed, was under house arrest.
Abdel-Jalil, the rebel chief, vowed Monday to give Gadhafi a "fair trial with all legal guarantees" when captured.
But Gadhafi's defiant audio messages raised the possibility of a last-ditch fight over the capital, home to 2 million people. Gadhafi, who was not shown, called on supporters to march in the streets of the capital and "purify it" of "the rats."
Government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim also claimed the regime has "thousands and thousands of fighters" and vowed: "We will fight. We have whole cities on our sides. They are coming en masse to protect Tripoli to join the fight."
Gadhafi's former right-hand man, who defected last week to Italy, said the longtime leader would not go easily.
"I think it's impossible that he'll surrender," Abdel-Salam Jalloud said in an interview broadcast on Italian RAI state radio, adding that "He doesn't have the courage, like Hitler, to kill himself."
Jalloud, who was Gadhafi's closest aide for decades before falling out with the leader in the 1990s, fled Tripoli on Friday, according to rebels.
The startling rebel breakthrough, after a long deadlock in Libya's 6-month-old civil war, was the culmination of a closely coordinated plan by rebels, NATO and anti-Gadhafi residents inside Tripoli, rebel leaders said. Rebel fighters from the west swept over 20 miles (30 kilometers) in a matter of hours Sunday, taking town after town and overwhelming a major military base as residents poured out to cheer them. At the same time, Tripoli residents secretly armed by rebels rose up.
When rebels reached the gates of Tripoli, the special battalion entrusted by Gadhafi with guarding the capital promptly surrendered. The reason: Its commander, whose brother had been executed by Gadhafi years ago, was secretly loyal to the rebellion, a senior rebel official, Fathi al-Baja, told The Associated Press.
On Monday, rebels erected checkpoints on the western approaches to the city, handing out candy to passengers and inquiring about their destination. Cars leaving the city were subjected to more rigorous checks.
President Barack Obama said Libya is "slipping from the grasp of a tyrant" and urged Gadhafi to relinquish power to prevent more bloodshed.
"The future of Libya is now in the hands of the Libyan people," Obama said in a statement from Martha's Vineyard, where he's vacationing. He promised to work closely with rebels.
South Africa, which led failed African Union efforts to mediate between the rebels and Gadhafi, refused to offer support to the rebels on Monday, saying it wants to see a unity government put in place as a transitional authority.
The uprising against Gadhafi broke out in mid-February, inspired by successful revolts in Egypt and Tunisia, Libya's neighbors to the east and west respectively. A brutal regime crackdown quickly transformed the protests into an armed rebellion. Rebels seized Libya's east, setting up an internationally recognized transitional government there, and two pockets in the west, the port city of Misrata and the Nafusa mountain range.
Gadhafi clung to the remaining territory, and for months neither side had been able to break the other.
In early August, however, rebels launched an offensive from the Nafusa Mountains, then fought their way down to the Mediterranean coastal plain, backed by NATO airstrikes, and captured the strategic city of Zawiya.
Gadhafi is the Arab world's longest-ruling, most erratic, most grimly fascinating leader - presiding over this North African desert nation with vast oil reserves and just 6 million people.
For years, he was an international pariah blamed for the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am jumbo jet over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 people. After years of denial, Gadhafi's Libya acknowledged responsibility, agreed to pay up to $10 million to relatives of each victim, and the Libyan rule declared he would dismantle his weapons of mass destruction program. That eased him back into the international community.
Al Jazeera has exclusive video of Libyan rebels ambushing Gaddafi loyalists at a checkpoint. According to the news outlet, "this Al Jazeera Exclusive footage gives an inside view of the struggle as the fighters push towards Sirte, the last stronghold of Gaddafi."
Video below (via Al Jazeera):
Muneer Masoud Own, 33, who made a living doing manual labor, said forces loyal to longtime Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi slaughtered nearly 150 prisoners as rebels closed in on Tripoli last week.
Charred bodies littered the ground around a warehouse -- roughly 30 feet by 45 feet -- where the detainees were kept. A volunteer who helped remove them, Bashir Own, estimated that he had seen about 150 bodies. He is not related to Muneer Own, who said he barely escaped an ordeal that started about a month ago.
Dozens of Libyans perform the last late afternoon prayer of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan at Freedom Square in the eastern Libyan port city of Benghazi on August 29, 2011.
Libya rebels claim to have "almost certain information" that Gaddafi's intelligence chief was killed.
|@ Reuters : FLASH: Libya rebels have "almost certain information" that Gaddafi intelligence chief killed on Sat. -Spokesman tells al-Arabiya TV|
Al Jazeera's James Bays filed a dazzling report from Libya on the situation of African migrants in the embattled country. Migrants claim to be assaulted and are locked up in prisons until rebel fighters made sure they did not work as mercenaries for the Gaddafi regime.
Watch Bays' report here:
The rebel commander in Tripoli Al Mahdi Al Haraqi told Reuters that he had confirmation that Khamis Gaddafi has been killed in a clash near Ben Walid.
He was taken to a hospital but died of his wounds and was buried in the area, Al-Haragi said, without giving the timing. No independent confirmation of the death was available.
A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters the United States could not yet independently confirm Khamis' death but said similar information was being received in Washington from "reliable sources."
Rebels claimed twice before Khamis Gaddafi was killed.
Libya's National Transitional Council reacted strongly on the message that relatives of Gaddafi would have arrived in Algeria, Reuters reports.
A spokesperson for the NTC said it considers sheltering members of Gaddafi's family an act of aggression.
"We have promised to provide a just trial to all those criminals and therefore we consider this an act of aggression," spokesman Mahmoud Shamman told Reuters.
"We are warning anybody not to shelter Gaddafi and his sons. We are going after them in any place to find them and arrest them," he said.
A rebel commander in Tripoli claims Gaddafi's son Khamis has been killed in clashes in southern Libya.
Khamis was claimed killed twice before.
|@ Reuters : FLASH: Gaddafi's son Khamis killed in clashes in southern Libya -Rebel commander in Tripoli|
AFP reports Italian energy company ENI reached an agreement with the Libyan National Transitional Council to take up gas supplies to Italy.
Libyan rebels they seek the extradition of Gaddafi's family members who fled to Algeria.
|@ Reuters : FLASH: Libya rebels say will seek extradition of Gaddafi family from Algeria|
Rebel commanders say Khamis Gaddafi, one of Colonel Gaddafi's most feared sons, has been killed in an air strike south of Tripoli.
Algeria confirms two of Gaddafi's sons, his daughter Aicha and his wife are in the country.
|@ Reuters : FLASH: Algeria confirms two of Gaddafi's sons, wife and daughter are in the country - Al-Jazeera TV|
Reuters reports Khamis Gaddafi, the Colonel's infamous ... son, may be next to be places on the ICC's most wanted list. The International Criminal Court earlier approved warrants for Gaddafi and his son Saif al-Islam.
ICC prosecutor Luis-Moreno Ocampo told Reuters in an interview that "Khamis should also be prosecuted because Khamis was the commander of the brigade that was more active on some of the crimes."
Official reportedly confirm three of Gaddafi's sons, his daughter and wife have arrived in Algeria.
From the Associated Press:
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — The chairman of the African Union says Libyan rebels may be indiscriminately killing black people in Libya because they have confused innocent migrant workers with mercenaries.
Chairman Jean Ping told reporters Monday that this is one of the reasons the AU is refusing to recognize the National Transitional Council as the country's interim government.
He said "We need clarification because the NTC seems to confuse black people with mercenaries .... They are killing normal workers."
Libya's rebel National Transitional Council appears to have secured Libya's capital after a week of fierce fighting with loyalists to Col. Moammar Gadhafi.
He said there was no doubt the council now controlled the capital city and called on both sides to "stop the killing."
Libyan rebels captured Gaddafi's personal 'Afriqiyah Airbus' in Tripoli.
Libyan rebels leave Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi's 'Afriqiyah One' Airbus A340 plane at Tripoli airport on August 29, 2011.
The tribe of Abdel Fattah Younes said it will take justice into their own hands if rebel leaders do not identify the commander's killers, Reuters reports. "After Eid, that is the final deadline," Tarek, one of Younes' sons said in an interview with Reuters.
Abdel Fattah Younes was killed on July 28 after he was summoned by rebel leaders for questioning. Libyan authorities identified two people who allegedly carried out the assassination, but head of the NTC Mustafa Abdel Jalil had told reporters on Wednesday the suspected killers would be arrested "when the higher interests of this revolution will not be damaged."
Al Jazeera reporters in Tripoli said rebels have surrounded Gaddafi's hometown Sirte. The main push in the battle for Sirte is expected to come from the east, the channel reports.
Al Jazeera's Hoda Abdel Hamid reported from the eastern front near Sirte that rebels are holding off attacks, as they want to give tribal leaders in the city time to negotiations.
Andrew Simons, on the western front near the city, reported small fights between rebels and Gaddafi loyalists.
On Monday, NATO intensified airstrikes on Sirte.
The rebel flag waving over the Libyan embassy in Moscow.
A leaked United Nations report proposes elections in Libya within nine months, Al Jazeera reports. The UN would be looking to send a small contingent of 'Blue Barrets' to the country, if requested by the Libyan authorities and authorized by the Security Council.
"If requested by the Libyans and authorized by the Council, the UN could contribute to confidence-building and to the implementation of agreed military tasks, through unarmed UN military observer (UNMOs)," Al Jazeera quotes the document.
Read more on Al Jazeera.
France reopened its embassy in Libya, a spokesperson for the French foreign ministry said. France had closed the embassy six months ago.
Libyan rebels asked NATO to keep up pressure on the Gaddafi regime. The Associated Press reports NTC head Mustafa Abdul Jalil told a NATO delegation that former regime supporters who are now in hiding could still cause trouble.
"Gaddafi is still capable is doing something awful in the last moments," Abdul-Jalil said.
Tyler Hicks, photographer for the New York Times, found what seems to be a photo album from the Gaddafi family.
Watch the album on the NYTimes Lens Blog Website
Internet has returned in many areas in Tripoli.
|@ feb17voices : LPC #Tripoli: Internet has returned in many areas of the city. #Libya|
CNN correspondent in Libya Nic Robertson reports the Lockerbie bomber, Abdel Basset al Megrahi, is comatose and nearing death.
Read Robertson's full report on the CNN website.
The National Transitional Council announced earlier it will not extradite the Libyan.
CNN's report contradicts statements made earlier by a cancer specialist, who said Abdel Basset al Megrahi was in good health and could live for years.
Libya's National Transitional Council will not extradite the Lockerbie bomber
|@ Reuters : Minister in National Transitional Council says Libya will not extradite Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi|
An Iranian newspaper wrote on Sunday that foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi claimed Iran "discreetly" provided humanitarian aid to rebels in Libya.
According to AFP the minister told the newspaper that Iran was "in touch with many of the rebel groups in Libya before the fall of (Moamer) Gaddafi, and discreetly dispatched three or four food and medical consignments to Benghazi."
The minister also said the head of the NTC sent a letter to Teheran, thanking Iranian president Ahmedinejad for his help.
AFP reports Libyan rebels have freed more than 10,000 prisoners since they captured Tripoli. 50,000 prisoners would still be missing.
Ahmed Omar Bani, a spokesperson for the rebels, told reporters during a press conference that between 57,000 and 60,000 people have been arrested over the past months.
Libyan rebels declined an offer by Muammar Gaddafi to negotiate, saying they do not recognize him and are looking for Gaddafi as a criminal.
On Saturday, a spokesman for Gaddafi had offered the rebels by phone to start talks lead by Gaddafi's son Saadi.
Mahmoud Shamman, the NTC's information minister said in a news conference:
"I would like to state very clearly, we don't recognize them. We are looking at them as criminals. We are going to arrest them very soon .. Talking about negotiations is a daydream for what remains of the dictatorship."
Al Jazeera English has more on the latest overtures from the Gaddafi camp:
Moussa Ibrahim, the spokesperson for Muammar Gaddafi, has reportedly told the Associated Press news agency that the Libyan leader is ready to negotiate with the rebels to form a transitional government.
Ibrahim called AP headquarters in New York late on Saturday, and told them he was calling from Tripoli, the Libyan capital, and that Gaddafi was still in Libya.