By KARIN LAUB and BEN HUBBARD, Associated Press
TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) -- Fresh fighting erupted in Tripoli on Tuesday hours after Muammar Gaddafi's son turned up free to thwart Libyan rebel claims he had been captured, a move that seems to have energized forces still loyal to the embattled regime.
Rebels and pro-regime troops fought fierce street battles in several parts of the city, a day after opposition fighters swept into the capital with relative ease, claiming to have most of it under their control.
Thick clouds of gray and white smoke filled the Tripoli sky as heavy gunfire and explosions shook several districts of the city of 2 million people. Some of the heaviest fighting was around Gaddafi's Bab al-Aziziya main compound and military barracks.
The compound, which has been heavily damaged by NATO airstrikes, has emerged as one of the centers of government resistance since tanks rolled out Monday and began firing at rebels trying to get in.
Seif al-Islam's sudden - even surreal - arrival at a Tripoli hotel where foreign journalists are staying threw the situation in the capital into confusion. The appearance of Gaddafi's son and former heir apparent underlined the potential for the longtime Libyan leader, whose whereabouts remain unknown, to strike back even as his grip on power seemed to be slipping fast.
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-Gaddafi brigades are positioned on Tripoli's outskirts and could "be in the middle of the city in half an hour."
The rebel leadership seemed stunned that Seif al-Islam was free. A spokesman, Sadeq al-Kabir, had no explanation and could only say, "This could be all lies."
He could not confirm whether Seif al-Islam escaped rebel custody, but he did say that another captured Gaddafi son, Mohammed, had escaped the home arrest that rebels had placed him in a day earlier. On Monday, the rebels had said Seif al-Islam was captured, but did not give details on where he was held.
The Netherlands-based International Criminal Court - which indicted Seif al-Islam and his father - had announced his capture, but spokesman Fadi El Abdallah said Tuesday the court never received official confirmation from Libya's rebel authorities that he had been arrested.
Seif al-Islam, with a full beard and wearing an olive-green T-shirt and camouflage trousers, turned up early Tuesday morning at the Rixos hotel, where about 30 foreign journalists are staying in Tripoli under the close watch of regime minders.
Riding in a white limousine amid a convoy of armored SUVs, he took reporters on a drive through parts of the city still under the regime's control, saying, "We are going to hit the hottest spots in Tripoli." Associated Press reporters were among the journalists who saw him and went on the tour.
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, Gaddafi's residential compound and military barracks. The tour went through streets full of armed Gaddafi backers, controlled by roadblocks, and into the Gaddafi 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. Seif 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."
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 Gaddafi is or whether he is even in Tripoli.
"The real moment of victory is when Gaddafi is captured," Mustafa Abdel-Jalil said. An Obama administration official said the U.S. had no indication that Gaddafi had left Libya.
President Barack Obama said the situation in Libya reached a tipping point in recent days after a five month NATO-led bombing campaign. However, he acknowledged that the situation remained fluid and that elements of the regime remained a threat.
The Obama administration official said the U.S. believes 90 percent of the capital is under rebel control, while regime loyalists still control Sirte and the southern city of Sebha. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly.
Gaddafi's forces remained active, firing off a short-range Scud missile Monday near Sirte, Gaddafi's hometown and one of the few remaining cities still under his control, said U.S. military officials, who declined to be identified in order to discuss military operations. It was unclear where the missile landed or if anyone was hurt.
It was only the second Scud missile fired during this year's conflict. On Aug. 15, Libyan government forces launched one near Sirte that landed in the desert outside Brega, injuring no one.
NATO vowed to keep up its air campaign until all pro-Gaddafi forces surrender or return to their barracks. The alliance's 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 in March, NATO said.
But the situation in Tripoli, a metropolis of 2 million, remained volatile and rebels appeared to be on the defensive, ducking for cover during frequent clashes with regime fighters. Stores were shuttered and large areas were lifeless, including the old gold market, in the past a draw for tourists.
The International Organization for Migration said Tuesday that a rescue mission to pluck 300 foreign nationals from the Libyan capital has been delayed by fighting. The Geneva-based group says an IOM-chartered ship will remain off the coast of Tripoli "until security conditions have improved and the safety of staff and migrants can be guaranteed."
The rebels have sent reinforcements to the city from the north, south and southeast, and a rebel field commander said Monday that more than 4,000 fighters were part of the final push to bring down the regime. Rebels manned checkpoints on the western approaches to the city Monday, handing out candy to motorists and inquiring about their destinations.
Around midday Monday, rebel fighters took over a women's police college near the Mediterranean and declared that they would set up their new headquarters there.
But the rebels' optimistic mood of the morning quickly changed. By mid-afternoon, the college came under heavy fire. Snipers from nearby high-rises aimed at motorists speeding by. An anti-aircraft gun pounded the compound, creating a deafening noise. A handful of rebel fighters inside seemed jumpy and unsure what to do.
Gaddafi loyalists also launched attacks in two other areas of Tripoli, said Ashraf Hussein, a rebel fighter who sat pressed against an inner wall of the compound for safety.
Still, revelers flocked to Green Square, the symbolic heart of the fading Gaddafi regime that fell under rebel control late Sunday. They flashed the "V" for victory sign and motorists circled the plaza, honking horns and waving rebel flags.
Outside of Tripoli, almost all of eastern and western Libya is now under rebel control. The east of the country from the Egyptian border to Benghazi fell into rebel hands at the beginning of the uprising. In the weeks leading up to Sunday's lightning advance on Tripoli, the rebels consolidated control of the western Nafusa mountain range near the border with Tunisia. It was from there they staged the run on the capital. Most of the rest of the country was quickly falling into their hands.
The city of Sirte, Gaddafi's hometown to the east of Tripoli, was the most important loyalist bastion to remain fully under his control.
On Monday, the city was without power and full of heavily guarded Gaddafi checkpoints, said Hassan al-Daroui, an official with the rebel council in Benghazi who was in touch with people there by satellite phone. Many people there were not even aware that rebels had pushed into the capital, 250 miles (400 kilometers) to the northwest, he said.
On Saturday rebels said they gained control of the oil refineries and airport at the oil terminal of Brega, on the road heading out of Benghazi west toward Tripoli.
The rebels' startling breakthrough on Sunday, 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-Gaddafi residents inside Tripoli, rebel leaders said.
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.