- The Washington Times - Monday, August 22, 2011

The euphoria that swept Tripoli, Libya, on Sunday appeared to dissipate early Monday, as residents learned that forces loyal to Col. Moammar Gadhafi still controlled parts of the capital and the longtime Libyan dictator remained at large.

Col. Gadhafi’s son and one-time heir apparent, Seif al-Islam, who rebels said was in their custody on Sunday, turned up a free man early Tuesday at a Tripoli hotel where foreign journalists are staying.

He took reporters in his convoy on a drive through the city, the Associated Press reported. AP reporters were among the journalists who saw him.

“I am here to refute the lies,” he said, referring to news of his arrest, according to an Agence France-Presse report.

He claimed that Tripoli was still under the control of his father’s regime, that his father was still in the city and that the rebels had been lured into a trap.

Another of Col. Gadhafi’s sons, Mohammed, escaped house arrest on Monday.

Meanwhile, world leaders called on Col. Gadhafi to surrender and stop the final days of bloodshed. President Obama added a warning in remarks from Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, where he is vacationing.

“I want to emphasize that this is not over yet. As the regime collapses, there’s still fierce fighting in some areas,” he said.

Early Monday, rebels had surrounded Bab al-Aziziya, a military barracks in the heart of the city. The heavily fortified compound serves as a residence for Col. Gadhafi, his family and the inner circle of his regime.

Residents of Tripoli were startled by an explosion from the direction of Bab al-Aziziya and saw smoke on the horizon. Later, a brief firefight broke out near the compound as rebels clashed with pro-Gadhafi forces, who rode in tanks.
The rebels had anticipated a tough fight at Bab al-Aziziya.

Hana, a resident of Tripoli who gave only her first name, said rebels were waiting for reinforcements from Zawiyah, a city 30 miles west of Tripoli, before launching a bigger offensive.

Heavy fighting also was reported outside the Rixos Hotel, where the Gadhafi regime required foreign journalists to stay. The reporters are confined to the hotel surrounded by armed Gadhafi loyalists.

A network of tunnels connects Bab al-Aziziya with the Rixos Hotel, and Col. Gadhafi could be using this passage to evade detection, a Libyan source told The Washington Times.

“That would explain the heavy fighting around the Rixos. They could be using the foreign journalists as human shields,” said the source, who asked not to be identified.

The whereabouts of the Libyan dictator has been the subject of widespread speculation since the rebels entered Tripoli and sparked massive celebrations across the capital.

A resident of a neighborhood near Bab al-Aziziya said the rebels had not liberated the area as of Monday evening.

The rebels controlled about 80 percent of Tripoli and were trying to eliminate pockets of resistance from the regime’s forces.

The chairman of the rebels’ National Transitional Council, Mustapha Abdel-Jalil, said Monday that parts of Tripoli and the cities of Sirte to the east of Tripoli and Sebha to the south are still under control of pro-Gadhafi forces.

Gadhafi forces fired a Scud missile from Sirte toward the rebel-held town of Misrata on Monday, said Mohamed, a rebel spokesman. It was the third Scud-missile launch by Gadhafi forces since the start of the uprising in February.

Residents said they were afraid to leave their homes in a Tripoli neighborhood located a five-minute walk from the home of Abdullah Senussi, Col. Gadhafi’s brother-in-law and intelligence chief. Mercenaries patrolled the streets.

They told The Washington Times that Col. Gadhafi’s supporters drove through the streets chanting, “God, Gadhafi and Libya only!”

A resident, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing concern for her safety, said the rebel provisional government, the National Transitional Council, had instructed people to stay in their homes until the rebels liberate the area.

On Sunday night, soon after breaking their Ramadan fast, men and boys in some neighborhoods took up arms and went out to secure their neighborhoods. Some were shot by pro-Gadhafi forces.

The rebels were taking control of government buildings, banks and schools on Monday.

Mohamed, the rebel spokesman who gave only his first name, said the rebels had been planning their strategy to take over Tripoli for some weeks. “Our first priority is to secure the city. We don’t want any looting or for people to try and seek revenge against members of the regime,” he said.

Mohamed said all captured regime fighters would be treated as prisoners of war, in accordance with international law.

On Monday, before Seif al-Islam turned up at the Rixos Hotel, The Hague-based International Criminal Court had asked the rebel council to hand him over to the court. He is wanted by the court on charges of crimes against humanity.

Similar warrants were issued in June for Col. Gadhafi and Mr. Senussi.

The majority of Libyans interviewed by The Times said they want all three to be tried in a Libyan court.

“We are not in favor of Seif being sent to the ICC. He should be tried here in a Libyan court,” said a Tripoli resident who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

However, Hana, the other Tripoli resident, said: “We only care that he be tried. Our political prisoners never had this kind of justice. They never had trials and never went to court because Gadhafi was the judge. We need to show him that we are not like him.”

Fadi El Abdallah, a court spokesman, told The Times that the Libyan authorities have an obligation to cooperate fully with the court and to implement the arrest warrants.

Mr. Abdel-Jalil, the rebel leader and a former justice minister in the Gadhafi regime, urged rebels “not to take the law into their own hands.”

He urged them “to let justice take its course, and justice will reach all those guilty of committing crimes in Libya, so we can prove to the world we are a moderate Islamic nation that respects human rights and humanity.”

Mr. Abdel-Jalil had earlier said that Seif al-Islam was in rebel custody.

Col. Gadhafi’s eldest son, Mohamed, also was arrested on Sunday, but reportedly escaped from rebel captivity during a firefight in Tripoli on Monday as he was being interviewed by Al Jazeera television.

He was talking to Al Jazeera by telephone when gunfire erupted in his house and the phone line was cut. He is thought to have escaped in the ensuing melee.

In his remarks from Martha’s Vineyard, Mr. Obama said the situation in Libya is “still very fluid.”

“But this much is clear: The Gadhafi regime is coming to an end, and the future of Libya is in the hands of its people,” he said.

Mr. Obama said Col. Gadhafi had the opportunity to reduce bloodshed by relinquishing power and calling on his forces to lay down their arms.

He discussed the future of Libya in a phone call with British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Mr. Cameron held talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the leaders of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

“His regime is falling apart and in full retreat. Gadhafi must stop fighting, without conditions,” Mr. Cameron said in London.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke with Mr. Abdel-Jalil on Monday.

The two discussed ways that the international community can help protect civilians and provide key services, said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

Mr. Obama urged the rebel council to take steps to ensure a “peaceful, inclusive and just” transition.

“True justice will not come from reprisals and violence. It will come from reconciliation and a Libya that allows its citizens to determine their own destiny,” he said.

“The Libya that you deserve is within your reach,” he added in remarks directed at the Libyan people.

Ms. Nuland said diplomats from the “Contact Group” comprising mostly countries that took part in NATO’s air offensive in support of the rebels will meet in Istanbul on Thursday.

Britain announced that frozen Libyan assets would be provided to the rebels soon. France called for an international meeting on Libya next week, and Italy sent a team to Benghazi, the rebels’ de facto capital, to help with reconstruction.

• Ashish Kumar Sen can be reached at asen@washingtontimes.com.

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