Hundreds of rebels have stormed into Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s compound in the capital, Tripoli, as rebel leaders say they are establishing control over more of the city.
Rebel fighters fought their way into Gadhafi’s Bab al-Aziziya compound Tuesday amid heavy gunfire from pro-Gadhafi forces. Dozens of rebels could be seen firing their weapons in the air to celebrate what they considered a major victory. Black smoke filled the skyline while gunfire and explosions continued around the compound and several other parts of the city.
EU Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton said Tuesday the rebels’ political leader, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, told her they have control of 80 percent of the Libyan capital.
A NATO spokeswoman, Oana Lungescu, told reporters in Brussels that NATO’s mission in Libya is not over, and that it will continue military operations until all attacks and threats of attacks against civilians have stopped.
NATO military spokesman Colonel Roland Lavoie added that NATO forces are not specifically targeting Gadhafi, but that the alliance will strike “wherever is necessary” in Libya to protect civilians.
Gadhafi’s whereabouts are unknown. But his son and one-time heir apparent, Seif al-Islam, defiantly appeared in the city late Monday saying his father was still in Tripoli and that his government was still in control.
The rebels earlier claimed to have arrested Seif al-Islam, but he spoke to foreign journalists at the Gadhafi-controlled Rixos Hotel, then led a convoy of vehicles through loyalist areas, where television footage showed him pumping his fists in the air as supporters cheered him on.
The International Criminal Court on Tuesday disputed reports that it had earlier confirmed Seif al-Islam’s detention, saying the court never received official word from the opposition Transitional National Council.
Senior rebel sources also said another of Gadhafi’s sons – Mohammed – escaped house arrest Monday. A third son apparently is still in detention.
Opposition council chief Mustafa Abdel Jalil said Gadhafi will receive a fair trial if captured, and that the “real moment of victory” will be when he is taken into custody.
Jalil acknowledged that the rebels have yet to establish full control in Tripoli, where forces loyal to Gadhafi have battled rebels in scattered pockets. Opposition fighters say pro-government forces still hold 10 to 15 percent of the capital, including the Bab al-Aziziya compound.
The International Organization for Migration said Tuesday the fighting in Tripoli has forced it to delay docking a ship to begin evacuating stranded migrants. The group said the ship, which can carry 300 people, will remain off shore until the security situation improves.
In addition to parts of Tripoli, pro-government forces also control at least two major cities affiliated with his tribe – Sabha, to the south, and Sirte, some 450 kilometers east of the capital along the coast. NATO says government forces fired three Scud missiles toward the city of Misrata, but no injuries were reported.
The rebels broke through Tripoli’s outer defenses Sunday and reached the city’s central Green Square, where thousands celebrated the opposition’s arrival and tore down posters of Gadhafi. Until recently, the government had used the area for mass demonstrations in support of Gadhafi.
The rebel troops moved into central Tripoli with little resistance after capturing a key military base run by the government’s elite Khamis Brigade and commanded by another of Gadhafi’s sons.