Rebels believe they have surrounded Gadhafi near compound - KCTV5

Rebels believe they have surrounded Gadhafi near compound

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In this Sept. 1, 2009, file photo, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi arrives for a military parade in Green Square, Tripoli, Libya. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File) In this Sept. 1, 2009, file photo, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi arrives for a military parade in Green Square, Tripoli, Libya. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File)

Tripoli, Libya (CNN) -- Rebel fighters believe that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is holed up in a cluster of buildings near his compound and have dispatched more troops to the scene, a rebel commander said Thursday.

Rebel commanders have routinely checked out tips about the whereabouts of Gadhafi, who hasn't been seen since the opposition advanced into the Libyan capital.

Libya's cash-strapped rebel leadership worked to consolidate power Thursday, hustled to secure money to govern, battled tenacious pro-Gadhafi fighters in Tripoli, and started moving ministries from the rebel base in Benghazi to the capital.

The opposition posted a $1.4 million bounty for Gadhafi's capture or death.

"I have been out a bit in Tripoli discreetly, without being seen by people, and ... I did not feel that Tripoli was in danger," said a purported message from Gadhafi broadcast Wednesday. The speaker in the message taunted the rebels and called on loyalists to rise up in Tripoli.

The audio message was aired by two Arabic-language networks. In it, the speaker -- thought to be Gadhafi -- said he was no longer at his Tripoli compound, having retreated in a "tactical move" after NATO airstrikes destroyed much of it. CNN cannot independently confirm the authenticity of the recording.

The rebel control of Libya, while significant, is not complete. Fighters encountered pockets of resistance across Tripoli.

Special forces from Britain, France, Jordan and Qatar -- on the ground in Libya -- stepped up operations in Tripoli and other cities. But a senior opposition official said a large portion of the southern half of the capital remained dangerous.

"We have 80% of Tripoli liberated. The two suburbs of Abu Salim and Al Hadba al Khadra remain contested and fierce fighting with Gadhafi forces continues," said Hisham Abu Hajer, the coordinator of the rebels' brigades in Tripoli.

Eyewitnesses told CNN that fighting between rebels and Gadhafi loyalists erupted Thursday at the embattled leader's compound -- the scene of a number of clashes in recent days.

A giant plume of smoke rose from the compound in Bab al-Aziziya, just two days after rebels stormed it and seized control in a fierce firefight, CNN's Sara Sidner reported.

"I think there is a lot of ammunition inside and it may have exploded," Abu Hajer said of the smoke. "There are four floors of ammunition under the ground and there are lots of old tires and cars so it may have exploded."

Rebels controlled the hotly contested airport, but were struggling to control an area east of it. Two planes were set ablaze Wednesday night and exploded after a hit by Gadhafi forces shelling the airport.

"The Tripoli airport is under the control of the rebels but it is still being shelled by Gadhafi forces with Grad missiles," Abu Hajer said.

"Almost all of the hospitals around the city are receiving wounded, but some of the hospitals have not been accessible due to the fighting, which means that other hospitals have an added burden," said Jonathan Whittall, head of the Medecins Sans Frontieres humanitarian mission in Libya.

Whittall described chaos inside medical institutions short on doctors and nurses, many of whom have been afraid to help patients in Tripoli because of fighting. Nearby houses were converted into inpatient departments with patients lying on floors or on desks and "essentially caring for themselves," he said.

Two surgical teams were on their way from Europe with the first set to arrive Friday, said Robin Waudo, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The anxiety over Gadhafi's whereabouts forced some Tripoli residents to set up checkpoints to protect their homes.

"They are afraid of something that could happen because of the simple fact that Gadhafi hasn't been caught," said Tariq Elmeri, 28.

Elsewhere in the capital, the Venezuelan ambassador to Libya said his home there was attacked by armed groups.

Meanwhile, Gadhafi's son, Saadi, seemed open to negotiating a cease-fire.

"I will try to save my city Tripoli and 2 millions of people living there ... otherwise Tripoli will be lost forever like Somalia," he wrote in an e-mail to CNN Senior International Correspondent Nic Robertson.

Without a cease-fire, he added, "Soon it will be a sea of blood."

The National Transitional Council said it intends to move government ministries from the opposition base of Benghazi to Tripoli. Abu Hajer said that process has inched forward.

"About four or five ministerial level officials of the NTC have arrived in Tripoli. It is not yet clear where the NTC will set up offices, but officials have started trickling into the capital," he said.

In the oil-rich city of al-Brega, several crude oil storage tanks have been burning for six days after they were set ablaze by retreating Gadhafi troops, said Ramadan Shalash, the refinery fire chief.

"The forces of Gadhafi were here for about three months," he said. "And we were afraid that everything would be destroyed."

The National Transitional Council said it is negotiating with Gadhafi's tribe in his hometown of Sirte to ensure their surrender without bloodshed.

The search for Gadhafi follows news that the National Transitional Council is lobbying the United Nations and others to release Libyan money frozen in foreign banks by the Security Council.

The United States is expected Thursday to call for a vote by the Security Council. South Africa opposes the move and says the situation on the ground in Libya has not been settled.

Elsewhere, the Libya Contact Group -- an alliance of countries -- will meet Thursday in Istanbul to discuss how to help rebuild Libya's infrastructure.

TNC chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil revealed that starting in July, Turkey began rushing a total of $300 million to the rebels.

Italy will unfreeze about $505 million in Libyan assets that have been held in Italian banks, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Thursday.

Amid the renewed fighting came word that four Italian journalists were released Thursday, a day after they were kidnapped by unknown assailants in Libya, Italy's Foreign Ministry spokesman Maurizio Massari told CNN.

The heavy fighting took a costly toll.

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