Intense battles near Gaddafi compound
Tripoli - Intense battles raged on Thursday between about 1 000 rebels surrounding 10 buildings filled with Muammar Gaddafi loyalists in the neighbourhood next to the Libyan leader's captured compound.
Gaddafi, in a new audio message, called on Libyans to destroy the rebels.
A regime spokesperson told The Associated Press Gaddafi is safely in hiding and leading the battle against the rebels.
AP reporters on the scene of the battle in the Abu Salim neighbourhood said rebels were hammering at least 10 buildings sheltering Gaddafi loyalists with anti-aircraft guns. There were huge explosions, and the air was clogged with smoke. At least three of the buildings were burning.
"They are holding at least 10 tall buildings. They have heavy weaponry, maybe even a tank," Mohammed Karami, a rebel involved in the battle, said of the Gaddafi loyalists.
Mahmoud Bakoush, a rebel commander at the site, said there were rumours that one of Gaddafi's sons might be in the buildings, but they are unconfirmed.
"Don't leave Tripoli for the rats. Fight them, fight them, and kill them," Gaddafi said in audio message broadcast on Al-Arabiya television.
"It is the time for martyrdom or victory," he said, calling tribes outside the capital "to continue their march to Tripoli." He said imams in mosques should call for youths to rise up "for jihad".
Rebels will rape
He warned that the rebels will enter people's homes and rape their women.
"They will enter your houses and deprive you of your honour," he said. "Nato can't remain in the air all the time."
Gaddafi spokesperson Moussa Ibrahim, in a call to AP's Cairo office, said the long-time dictator was in Libya and his morale was high. Gaddafi "is indeed leading the battle for our freedom and independence" said Ibrahim, who was recognisable by his voice.
Ibrahim refused to say where Gaddafi was hiding. Ibrahim, who had for months appeared daily in televised news conferences since the start of the rebellion six months ago, added he himself was in an undisclosed location in Libya and constantly on the move.
"All of the leader's family are fine," Ibrahim said, adding that top military and political aides remained with Gaddafi.
He said Gaddafi was capable of continuing resistance for "weeks, months and years".
Ibrahim claimed Gaddafi's forces controlled a "good portion" of the capital - a claim that contradicts what reporters are seeing on the ground - and other cities and towns.
He also accused Nato of besieging Gaddafi strongholds such as Sirte.