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LIBYA: Rebels Storm Gaddafi Compound in Tripoli

DOHA, Aug 23 2011 - Rebels have entered the fortified compound of Muammar Gaddafi in Bab al-Azizya in Tripoli, following intense fighting with forces loyal to the Libyan leader.

The rebels “broke through the gates of Bab al-Aiziya [and] some opposition fighters managed to enter the government’s stronghold in the Libyan capital,” Al Jazeera’s correspondent Zeina Khodr said, reporting from the compound on Tuesday.

A Libyan rebel commander told Al Jazeera that 90 per cent of the compound was under rebel control.

As celebratory gunfire rang out, there were reports that the compound armoury was being looted.

Khodr said that the looting was being done by civilians and not rebel fighters. A rebel supporter was seen kicking around a broken sculpture of Gaddafi.

Fighting meanwhile also continued across the capital for a second day with the sound of gunfire and occasional explosions ringing out.

The al-Mansoura district was the focus of fierce clashes between government forces and opposition fighters, two days after the rebels marched into the heart of the city, prompting scenes of jubiliation.

“Gaddafi troops are holed up in a series of pockets where they still seem to have strength, the main one of which is inside that sprawling Gaddafi compound,” said Al Jazeera’s James Bays, another correspondent reporting from Tripoli.

Gaddafi’s forces are reportedly fighting back using heavy weapons including mortars and shells fired in the direction of Green Square, which rebels have renamed Martyrs’ Square, casting doubts on opposition claims that much of the city was under their control.

The Libyan leader’s whereabouts are unknown.

“The battle is certainly not over. The city is on a knife edge,” our correspondent said.

There have been reports of NATO planes flying very low on top of Gaddafi’s compound.

Confusion on the ground

Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst, Marwan Bishara, analyses the fight for Tripoli and what it means for Libya

Meanwhile, 30 journalists remained holed up in Tripoli’s Rixos hotel on Tuesday. The New York Times reported that journalists from the BBC, CNN and other international news organisations were stuck inside the hotel with no electricity and described the hotel as a “prison”.

In a dramatic development earlier in the day, Saif al-Islam, the son of the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, appeared in al-Mansouraand at the Rixos hotel to refute claims that he had been captured by opposition forces and rally government loyalists.

“There is confusion among the ranks of opposition fighters on the ground,” Al Jazeera’s Khodr added. “Some people are asking whether the National Transitional Council has been infiltrated.”

The head of Libya’s opposition National Transitional Council (NTC) on Monday announced the end of Gaddafi’s decades-long rule.

But the re-appearance of Saif, an influential figure who is wanted by the International Criminal Court, has raised fresh questions about the NTC leadership’s grip on a fast-changing situation.

Al Jazeera’s Jacky Rowland reporting from Benghazi said: “Now we are seeing accusations, doubts, and confusion.

“It is going to be interesting to see how the NTC explains this debacle and how it seeks to reinforce and strengthen these alliances and enable the rebels to get to Tripoli itself.”

The NTC held a joint press conference in Benghazi with Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister on Tuesday.

“We stand by NTC leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil … He established the path for Libya for the future,” Davutoglu said.

Caution and confusion

Celebrations followed the rebels push into central Tripoli on Sunday night, when an opposition force took control of the Green Square and claimed victory, but has since given way to caution and confusion.

Snipers scattered across the city continued to wage resistance, while a rebel convoy was ambushed by Gaddafi loyalists using anti-aircraft weapons.

Elsewhere in the country, the US military said that its warplanes had shot down a scud missile fired from Sirte, Gaddafi’s hometown, indicating that remnants of Gaddafi’s forces were continuing to resist.

Rebel fighters in eastern Libya advanced towards the oil terminal of Ras Lanuf after taking the coastal town of Ageila from forces loyal to Gaddafi.

Moussa Ibrahim, the government spokesperson, claimed Gaddafi forces had control of at least 75 per cent of Tripoli. But rebels said Gaddafi supporters only held about 20 per cent of the city.

The tenuous nature of the rebels’ grip on Tripoli has dampened rebel hopes of a swift victory and raised concerns that the city of two million people could be the stage for a protracted armed struggle.

* Published under an agreement with Al Jazeera.

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