Rebels Go House To House In Gaddafi Hunt
Libyan rebels are going house to house in Tripoli as they hunt Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.
Fighting in central Tripoli continued as rebels targeted an apartment block where they had thought Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and some of his sons were hiding.
Rebels exchanged fire with Gaddafi’s troops inside the buildings, near the central Bab al Aziziyah compound.
A fighter said: “They are together. They are in a small hole. Today we will finish. Today we will end that.”
Sky’s Stuart Ramsay, in Tripoli, said he believed the apartment block was near the east side of the compound and was one of a number of similar buildings.
He said the firefight was “massive” with heavy resistance coming from the buildings.
Ramsay also said there had been a number of casualties and some instances of friendly fire.
“I have to say, it is not somewhere I would expect him to be holed up in,” he added.
The AP news agency has reported that around 1,000 rebels are taking part in the battle.
Rebels have also stormed the Abu Salim district, one of the main holdouts of pro-Gaddafi forces, after a Nato airstrike in the area.
Despite the rebels’ belief that Col Gaddafi is in Tripoli, there are also suspicions that he may have fled to his hometown of Sirte, which is 250 miles (400km) east of the capital.
The Syrian TV channel Al-Orouba broadcast an audio tape apparently of Col Gaddafi calling on all tribes to fight “foreign intervention”.
In it, he appealed to women and children to help “purify” Tripoli.
The tape ended with Col Gaddafi saying his supporters were the “sweeping majority” and that Libyans needed to “destroy” the rebel “rats”.
Earlier the dictator’s spokesman has told AP that Col Gaddafi is “in Libya and leading the fight against the rebels”.
Moussa Ibrahim said Col Gaddafi is “safe, healthy and his morale is high”.
Speaking in a telephone call he added that Col Gaddafi “is indeed leading the battle for our freedom and independence every day”.
Reuters has reported that rebels have found huge stockpiles of food, medicine and fuel hoarded by the Gaddafi regime that may ease the severe shortages across the country.
Head of the rebel-led Transitional National Council (NTC) Mustafa Abdel Jalil said there was enough food to feed a city twice Tripoli’s size – its population is two million – and enough medicine for the entire country for a year.
And the US State Department said it believes Libya’s stockpiles of low-enriched uranium and mustard gas, built up by Col Gaddafi, are secure.
Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said it was monitoring sites where the stockpiles are held.
The violence in Tripoli has intensified in recent hours, with reinforcement fighters streaming into the capital from the cities of Misratah and Benghazi, as well as the western Nafusa mountains.
Fighting also broke out outside the Corinthia Hotel, where many foreign journalists are staying.
Earlier a huge ammunition dump was found in a wooded area near the Rixos hotel.
The search for Col Gaddafi is now reportedly being headed up by the elite 22 SAS Regiment.
A £1m bounty has been put on the former dictator’s head by two businessmen in Benghazi, whether he is found dead or alive.
According to the Daily Telegraph, the British troops have been dressing in Arab civilian clothing and are armed with the same weapons as locals.
Sources told the newspaper the soldiers had been operating in Libya for several weeks and had joined the hunt for Col Gaddafi on the orders of Prime Minister David Cameron.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman told Sky News the department never commented on special forces operations.
Meanwhile, the high commissioner of the UN refugee agency Antonio Guterres has told Sky News there are still hundreds of migrants desperate to leave Tripoli.
Mr Guterres said many are terrified they will be mistaken for mercenaries and attacked by the rebels.
The first International Organisation for Migration (IOM) boat has docked in Tripoli’s port.
Around 250 foreigners are being taken away from the fighting to the rebel centre of Benghazi in the east.
Mustafa Jalil said more than 20,000 people have been killed so far in the six-month battle to oust Col Gaddafi.
On Wednesday 35 foreign journalists held by Gaddafi loyalists at Tripoli’s Hotel Rixos were released unharmed.
Four Italian journalists abducted near Zawiyah on Wednesday have also now been freed.
Two of them worked for Corriere della Sera, while the others were reporters for La Stampa and Avvenire newspapers.
The Italian consul in Benghazi, Guido de Sanctis said the group were being held in an apartment in Tripoli.
Their driver was killed during the abduction, however.
One of the freed journalists, Claudio Monici, said he and his colleagues and their driver were pulled from their car by what they soon realised were Gaddafi’s troops.
“We were very nervous and they pushed us back and somebody hit us and kicked us,” he said.
“Then they took our driver out and then he prayed, because he understood it was the last moment for him and then in front of us there was fighting and they killed him.”
He explained the four journalists were then taken to a house, where they were locked inside a garage and given just water and biscuits.
They were eventually taken away in a car and freed.
Footage has also emerged on YouTube of prisoners apparently being freed from Tripoli’s Abu Salim prison.
The video, filmed on a mobile phone, claims to have been captured on Wednesday and shows crowds of overjoyed prisoners running out of a building, and others smashing down cell doors to free inmates still incarcerated.
Speaking to Sky News, former prisoner Mohammed said the conditions in the prison were hard, and he claimed inmates had been tortured.
“Thank god we are free and we broke out; we broke ourselves out.
“Our families were going crazy worrying about us.
He added that most of the people in the prison were incarcerated for political reasons.