CRISIS IN LIBYA

Libya war: Intense battles rage in Tripoli as search for Gadhafi goes on

A Libyan rebel smashes a portrait of Moammar Gadhafi in Tripoli. (Photo: Associated Press)
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TRIPOLI (AP) — British warplanes struck a large bunker in Moammar Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte, his largest remaining stronghold, on Friday as NATO turned its attention to loyalist forces battling advancing Libyan rebels in the area.

The airstrikes came a day after fierce clashes erupted in the Libyan capital. The rebels said pro-Gadhafi forces were still shelling the airport and sporadic shooting was reported elsewhere, but the streets of Tripoli were relatively calm on Friday.

The military alliance that NATO warplanes targeted 29 vehicles mounted with weapons near the city, which is 250 miles (400 kilometers) east of the Libyan capital of Tripoli. Rebels are trying to occupy Sirte but expect fierce resistance from tribesman and townspeople loyal to Gadhafi.

The rebel leadership, apparently trying to avoid the bloodshed that occurred in the battle for Tripoli, is working behind the scenes to secure the peaceful surrender of Sirte, Libyan rebel officials have said.

But the latest NATO airstrikes on loyalist vehicles defending Sirte appeared aimed at paving the way for the rebel advance if a negotiated settlement proves impossible.

In London, British Defense Secretary Liam Fox said some elements of the Gadhafi's regime were in Sirte "where they are still continuing to wage war on the people of Libya." He said NATO would continue to strike at the Gadhafi forces' military capability.

"The regime needs to recognize that the game is up," Fox said.

Maj. Gen. Nick Pope, a British military spokesman, said royal Air Force jets also hit a large headquarters bunker in Sirte with a salvo of air-to-surface missiles.

NATO also bombed surface-to-air missile facilities near Tripoli, a statement said. Officials say Gadhafi's forces are trying to reconstitute their anti-aircraft weapons to pose a threat to humanitarian and civilian flights into Tripoli airport.

A rebel field commander in Tripoli, Sathi Shneibi, claimed the airport was largely under opposition control but Gadhafi's forces were shelling it from a nearby military base that had been controlled by Gadhafi's son Khamis.

The rebels, meanwhile, were searching for the remnants of pro-Gadhafi forces in buildings in the Abu Salim neighborhood, which saw some of the heaviest fighting on Thursday.

Seven detained men and one woman were sitting in a pickup truck in a rural area between Abu Salim and the airport.

When asked who they were, Shneibi said, "Things are still not stable and we are arresting anybody we find suspicious and taking them to the military council."

Meanwhile, dozens of decomposing bodies were piled up in an abandoned hospital in Tripoli, a grim testament to the chaos roiling the capital as Libyan rebels clash with pro-Gadhafi forces.

The four-story hospital was in the Abu Salim neighborhood, which has seen some of the heaviest fighting this week, although the facility was empty and it could not be determined when the men had been killed. The floors were covered with shattered glass and bloodstains, and medical equipment was strewn about.

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