- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Libyan rebels breached Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s fortified military compound in Tripoli after a fierce firefight Tuesday evening but found no sign of the dictator or his family.

“We are in! This is the end of the regime,” Mohamed, a rebel spokesman who gave only his first name, told The Washington Times.

Hours after the battle, a pro-Gadhafi TV channel quoted him as saying he retreated from his Tripoli compound in a “tactical move” after 64 NATO airstrikes turned it to rubble.

Al-Rai TV said Wednesday it would air the comments in full and reported an excerpt in which the leader of Libya’s unraveling regime vowed his forces would resist “the aggression with all strength” until either victory or death.

Residents in the neighborhood said heavy fighting at the compound had given way to wild festivities. Celebratory gunfire crackled inside the compound, Bab al-Aziziya, and neighbors saw smoke billowing over the area.

“The regime is falling. You will hear the good news soon. It’s just a matter of hours,” Mohamed said.

About 2,000 reinforcements joined the rebels who first surrounded Bab al-Aziziya on Sunday, he added.

A woman who lives near the compound said loyalist forces and rebels had been engaged in a fierce battle before rebels poured into the compound. She declined to give her name out of concern for her safety.

Gadhafi loyalists still control some parts of the capital, and firefights erupted outside the Rixos Hotel where the regime has detained foreign journalists.

Col. Gadhafi, his family and members of the regime’s inner circle lived in Bab al-Aziziya. People familiar with the compound described it as a maze of high walls.

TV footage showed rebels firing multiple rounds of celebratory gunfire in the compound. They stamped and beat a bust of Col. Gadhafi and attacked a large statue of a fist crushing a U.S. jet.

The statue was a symbol of the dictator’s defiance, erected in front of a building severely damaged when U.S. jets bombed the compound in 1986 in retaliation for Libya’s bombing of a West German disco that killed two American soldiers.

Rebels looted arms and ammunition from depots inside the compound. One was seen on Sky TV wearing a military cap and chain belonging to Col. Gadhafi.

The streets inside the compound were littered with rocks, and the walls were pockmarked by bullets.

The Bab al-Aziziya fortress has a military barracks surrounded by a high wall fitted with sensors, alarms and remote-controlled infrared cameras that constantly scan the access roads. The pictures fed back to a bank of television screens in a main security room, the Associated Press reported.

Col. Gadhafi’s wife and family lived in a two-story building, their opulent living room decorated with glass screens, paintings and sofas.

He entertained guests in a Bedouin-style tent pitched near two tennis courts about 200 yards from the family home, according to the AP.

In the early days of the uprising, which erupted in February, the rebels stumbled upon a warren of dungeons and entombed prisoners when they overran a military base in Benghazi. They expect to find a similar network of prisons at Bab al-Aziziya.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the situation in Tripoli was still “somewhat fluid.”

“But there’s no question that the Gadhafi regime has nearly collapsed. There’s also no question that the best thing he could do for his people would be to relinquish power immediately,” she said.

The Obama administration is working with the United Nations to release to the rebels between $1 billion and $1.5 billion in frozen Libyan assets.

“We want to give this money back to the [rebel provisional government] for its use, first and foremost, to meet humanitarian needs and to help it establish a secure, stable government and to move on to the next step in its own road map,” Ms. Nuland said.

A NATO spokeswoman said it is clear that Col. Gadhafi’s regime is history.

“The remnants of the regime are desperate. They may be trying to fight back here and there, but they are fighting a losing battle,” Oana Lungescu said from NATO headquarters in Brussels.

“For the Gt-6>adhafi regime, this is the final chapter. The end is near, and events are moving fast. What’s clear to everyone is that Gadhafi is history, and the sooner he realizes it, the better.”

Gadhafi loyalists controlled some pockets of Tripoli, the dictator’s tribal stronghold of Sirte on the Mediterranean coast and the city of Sebha in the south.

Earlier Tuesday, Seif al-Islam, the dictator’s second son and one-time heir apparent, made a surprise appearance at the Rixos Hotel. Rebels had claimed they captured him Sunday.

He insisted that his father’s regime was still in control of Tripoli and that the rebels had been lured into an elaborate trap.

He told reporters that his father is still in Tripoli.

Hany Soufrakis, a Cairo-based spokesman for the rebel provisional government, the National Transitional Council, described the appearance of Col. Gadhafi’s son as an embarrassment for the rebels, especially after rebel leader Mustapha Abdel-Jalil publicly confirmed his capture.

Another of Col. Gadhafi’s sons, Mohammed, escaped rebel custody Monday while he was under house arrest.

“I think most Libyans are incredibly disappointed. The council, especially Mr. Abdel-Jalil, must not rush to make announcements until they have matters confirmed,” Mr. Soufrakis told The Times in a phone interview.

“Two sons being caught was quite an achievement, but for both of them to have then escaped is unbelievable,” he added.

Phone service in Tripoli was down Tuesday, and rebels speculated that this may be the work of Mohammed Gadhafi, who ran the telecommunication and Internet sectors in the regime.

Seif al-Islam’s re-emergence gave rise to speculation that he also had escaped custody or had never been in captivity in the first place.

“The council has lost an incredible amount of credibility because of what has happened,” Mr. Soufrakis said.

The International Criminal Court in The Hague had confirmed the news of Seif al-Islam’s capture. A spokesman said Monday that the court had asked the rebels to turn him over so he could face charges of crimes against humanity.

On Tuesday, court spokesman Fadi El Abdallah told The Times that the court had received information of Seif al-Islam’s arrest only from the media and had sought confirmation from the rebel council.

“The court did not receive an official confirmation of the news, and the ICC prosecutor indicated that he talked to the National Transitional Council and discussed the efforts to apprehend the suspects and to arrest them,” Mr. El Abdallah said.

The court issued warrants in June for the arrest of Seif al-Islam, Col. Gadhafi and Abdullah Senussi, his brother-in-law and intelligence chief. All three are wanted on charges of committing crimes against humanity.

Outside Bab al-Aziziya on Tuesday, pro-Gadhafi snipers fired on residents and rebels from vantage points atop buildings in the area.

Nasser, a Libyan exile whose family resides near Bab al-Aziziya, said many of the regime’s supporters live in the neighborhood.

“There are Gadhafi loyalists in Mansoura, Bab al-Aziziya and Al Sreem who will die for Gadhafi. They are hard-core loyalists,” he said, referring to neighborhoods adjacent to the compound.

Residents of Tripoli face severe shortages of fuel and food. On Tuesday, the city was hit by long power cuts and phone service was down.

Medical supplies arrived in Tripoli, and fuel was on its way from Turkey, Italy and Croatia.

Rebels claimed that they had secured a large part of Tripoli and said it was significant that no looting or disorder had been reported from these areas.

A source close to the rebel council said the provisional government was planning to relocate to Tripoli “within days” from the rebels’ de facto capital in Benghazi in the east.

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