LIBYAN UPRISING

Libya war: New round of fighting surrounds Gadhafi compound, airport

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Rebel fighters, who by Wednesday afternoon appeared to control most but not all of Bab al-Aziziya, were using the compound as staging area for their operations, loading huge trucks with ammunition and discussing deployments.

(Photo: Associated Press)

But their movements inside the compound were repeatedly disrupted Wednesday by loyalist attacks, with pro-Gadhafi snipers firing on the fighters from tall buildings in Abu Salim.

"There are also civilians in those buildings who support Gadhafi and they too are firing on us," said Mohammed Amin, a rebel fighter.

He said the rebels have surrounded Abu Salim, but have been unable to push into it. Amin said one rebel had been killed in the area Wednesday morning and four more were captured by pro-Gadhafi soldiers.

The rebels claim they control the Tripoli airport but are still clashing with Gadhafi forces in the streets around it. AP reporters said the road leading to the airport was closed because of heavy fire by pro-regime snipers.

Khalil Mabrouk, a 37-year-old rebel, said he had just come from the airport and the rebels have been inside since Monday. Most of the airport was cleared of Gadhafi troops, he said, but pro-Gadhafi's forces to the south were firing rockets and shelling rebel positions inside.

Meanwhile, dozens of foreign journalists were released Wednesday after being held captive for days by pro-government gunmen at Tripoli's once-luxurious Rixos Hotel, which is next to Abu Salim. A steady barrage of machine gunfire and heavy weapons could be heard in the area through the day, including in a large wooded park behind the hotel.

Elsewhere in the city, streets were deserted except for the rebel checkpoints, where fighters looked for Gadhafi supporters and checked the trunks of cars for weapons. At one checkpoint, a picture of Gadhafi, once ubiquitous throughout the city, had been laid on the ground so cars had to drive over it.

Many buildings were covered in the pro-rebel graffiti that has appeared over the last few days.

Trash, already a problem in the waning months of Gadhafi's rule, now covers many streets and sidewalks. The shredded remains of Gadhafi's green flags were also scattered across the city.

Inside Gadhafi's compound, two young rebel fighters searched through a heap of pill packages in a building they said had served as a pharmacy. A broken TV, its screen shattered, lay on the ground in the courtyard. Debris littered the ground. A dozen young fighters posed for pictures next to a gold-colored statue of a clenched fist squeezing a plane — a memorial to the 1986 U.S. airstrikes on the compound in retaliation for a bombing at a German disco frequented by U.S. servicemen.

"The blood of our martyrs will not be spilled in vain," the fighters chanted, pumping their fists.

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