Tripoli, Libya (CNN) — Libyan rebels weathered resistance from pro-Moammar Gadhafi forces in several volatile pockets across Tripoli Wednesday, but a few dozen journalists kept hostage by the strongman’s armed supporters have dramatically managed to go free.
Rebels worked to topple remnants of the Gadhafi military apparatus as special forces from Britain, France, Jordan and Qatar — which are on the ground in Libya — have stepped up operations in Tripoli and other cities in recent days to help them.
But CNN’s Dan Rivers, speaking to a senior opposition official, learned that a large portion of the southern half of the city remains dangerous. While much of Tripoli is in rebel hands, there are areas where the rebels are not in control.
Several rockets landed near the Tripoli International Airport — one apparently on the tarmac — and rebel commander Mukhtar Al-Akhbar said Wednesday four rebel fighters were found bound and executed nearby. NATO jets are overhead and there are sounds of explosions and automatic gunfire.
Rebels control the hotly contested airport but were struggling to control an area east of it. Rebels say the intensity of the fighting around the airport is directly linked to Gadhafi’s still unknown whereabouts. They believe loyalists are trying to clear a route for him to escape and there are suspicions he might have been traveling in a convoy.
Fighting between rebels and Gadhafi loyalists broke out Wednesday outside the Rixos hotel. Later, about 35 trapped international journalists trapped there gained their freedom, after five days of being held by armed pro-Gadhafi forces.
CNN Senior International Correspondent Matthew Chance said the journalists had been “living in fear” and they wept with relief as they got out. Speaking from inside a car as he was being driven away from the hotel, Chance said their freedom came as the gunmen realized most of Tripoli had been taken by the anti-Gadhafi forces.
A day after rebel fighters captured Gadhafi’s Bab al-Aziziya compound, loyalist forces shot at least seven mortars into the symbolic heart of the Libyan ruler’s regime.
The seizure of the compound punctuated the buoyant optimism of the rebels and their National Transitional Council political movement. The NTC claimed rebels now control 90% of the country and said it plans to move ministries from its base of Benghazi in the east to Tripoli.
Rebels said they had captured some of Gadhafi’s forces inside the compound following an hours-long siege. They ransacked the facility and confiscated weapons there. But neither Gadhafi nor any of his family members were found, and a message of defiance said to be from the longtime Libyan leader emerged Wednesday.
Two Arabic networks aired an audio message purportedly from Gadhafi in which he called upon all Libyans “to clear the city of Tripoli and eliminate the criminals, traitors and rats.”
“They are hiding between the families and inside the civilian houses,” the speaker said. “It’s your duty to enter these houses and take them out.”
CNN cannot confirm the authenticity of the message.
Hours earlier, Gadhafi spokesman Musa Ibrahim struck an equally defiant tone when he said government forces have the power to fight in Tripoli “not just for months — for years.”
“We will turn Libya into a volcano of lava and fire under the feet of the invaders and their treacherous agents,” Ibrahim said in a phone call to satellite news channels, according to Reuters.
A senior NATO official said the war was “not over yet, although it’s close. We continue to watch for flare-ups from around the country, where there are still going to be pockets of resistance. We are also watching the chemical weapons and Scud missiles to make sure they are not used in the endgame.”
Another NATO official elaborated on the help from foreign forces. British forces, in particular, have assisted rebel units by “helping them get better organized to conduct operations,” the official said.
Some of the foreign forces traveled with rebel units from towns across Libya as they advanced on Tripoli. The official, who declined to be identified due to the sensitive nature of the intelligence information, said the special forces have helped rebels “improve their tactics.”
The forces have also provided targeting information to warplanes conducting airstrikes and conducted reconnaissance missions in Tripoli. The forces have also assisted rebels in communications as they conducted the assault on the capital.
Mustafa Abdul Jalil, NTC chairman, told Italy’s La Repubblica daily newspaper Wednesday that Tripoli is “80% under our control.”
“Pockets of resistance remain in the city and there is a large concentration of the armed forces in the Sirte area, the historical backbone of the regime.” Sirte — Gadhafi’s hometown — is east of Tripoli.
“The Gadhafi era is finished, even though all will end only with his capture and with his conviction for all the crimes he committed.”
Jalil said the “prevailing thought” in the NTC is to put Gadhafi and his allies on trial in Libya, not at the International Criminal Court at The Hague. He also said that parliamentary and presidential elections will be held in eight months.
“We want a democratic government and a fair constitution,” he said.
Foreign countries are recognizing the NTC as Libya’s rightful government, though Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said his country would only recognize a Libyan regime led by Gadhafi, his close ally.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said his country will consider establishing relations with Libyan rebels if they “have have the power and spirit and opportunity to unite the country on a new democratic basis.”
However, “there are two governing powers in the country, and despite the rebels’ success in Tripoli, Gadhafi and his loyalists retain influence and military potential,” Medvedev said.
Critical to the rebels’ ultimate success will be the release of money that has been frozen in international banks.
The U.N. Security Council may soon free up assets for use by anti-Gadhafi forces in Libya. A Western diplomat told CNN that the United States, France, and Britain were discussing a resolution that would allow the rebel forces to use money previously held by Gadhafi’s government.
Large amounts of money held by the Libyan regime in foreign bank accounts were frozen by the security council in February and March. The resolution would also lift sanctions from banks and other Libyan entities.
(edition.cnn.com / 24.08.2011)