Libyan Forces Battle at Airport as Qaddafi Calls for Cleansing

Forces loyal to Libyan President Muammar Qaddafi attacked targets at the airport in the capital as the Libyan leader urged his supporters to “cleanse Tripoli of the rats.”

At least four planes, including an Airbus A330, were destroyed by rocket fire, Al Arabiya television reported today. Rebel forces claimed the capture of strategic positions around the city, including a military warehouse where tanks used by the embattled regime were stored, images on Al Arabiya showed.

“As the Libyan regime and its forces begin to melt away you have residual groups who are going to continue to fight,” Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, said by phone yesterday. “They will start to target airports, seaports, oil and gas infrastructure and anything that represents the authority of the new government.”

Since entering Tripoli this week, after breaking a stalemate in a six-month effort backed by airstrikes from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, rebel leaders are taking steps to begin a transition. The rebel National Transitional Council officially transferred its headquarters from Benghazi in the east to Tripoli on Aug. 24, council Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril said yesterday during a visit to Italy.

Hunting Qaddafi

Rebel fighters surrounded a complex in the capital where they suspected Qaddafi was hiding, council defense spokesman Colonel Ahmed Bani, said by phone yesterday. About 1,000 rebels streamed into the Abu Salim neighborhood, next to Qaddafi’s captured Bab Al Aziziya compound. With no evidence of Qaddafi, Bani acknowledged that the Libyan leader’s presence there “could be a rumor.”

Rebel leaders worked to retrieve assets frozen by the United Nations and other governments in an effort to obtain funding for food, and humanitarian and medical needs, transitional council Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil said at a press conference in Benghazi yesterday.

The UN Security Council gave the U.S. permission to release $1.5 billion in frozen Libyan government assets to the transitional council. About $30 billion in Libyan assets are held in the U.S., which has been beyond the reach of the rebels.

Italy has freed up 350 million euros ($505 million) in Libyan assets, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said yesterday. Germany, which holds about 7.3 billion euros ($10.5 billion) of Libyan assets, is providing a loan of $140 million to the transitional council as an advance.

Clinton’s Call

“We call on Qaddafi, his family, and his supporters to bring an end to their continuing violence for the sake of the Libyan people and Libya’s future,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement from Washington yesterday.

Amid the fighting in parts of Tripoli, medical staff were unable to reach hospitals to treat the injured, though areas of the city secured by the opposition are calm and have water and electricity, said Robin Waudo of the International Committee of the Red Cross in a telephone interview from the capital yesterday. Since fighting began in Libya, the number of people killed has “exceeded 20,000,” Abdel Jalil said yesterday.

Qaddafi’s audio message, issued from hiding while rebels were hunting him with intelligence help from NATO, called on Muslim clerics to incite Libyans for “jihad” against his enemies. The audiotape was broadcast by Syria-based Al Oruba TV.

Push Toward Sirte

To the east of the capital, rebel fighters pushed toward Qaddafi’s hometown of Sirte. They were negotiating with tribal leaders to enter the city without violence, Bani said from Benghazi, while fighting continued yesterday in the southern city of Sabha between Qaddafi loyalists and the rebels.

NATO warplanes carried out raids during the night near Tripoli and Sirte, the alliance said in a statement.

NATO special forces are now based in Misrata, from where they call in airstrikes and advise opposition fighters, a rebel officer from the city said yesterday.

Two teams, one British and one French, have been controlling alliance warplanes in attacking government targets around the city for several weeks, said Mohammed Subka, a communications specialist in the Al Watum, or My Home, brigade.

“Rebel fighters are doing the bulk of the work,” said Karasik. “No one has thought through yet the aftermath of taking Tripoli so this next week will be very telling as far as their ability to hold on to their gains.”

Oil Exports Halted

The conflict has all but halted oil exports from Libya, which has the largest proven reserves of any African country. Output dropped to 100,000 barrels a day in July, down from the 1.6 million barrels pumped before the uprising started.

Crude oil for October delivery slipped 25 cents to settle at $85.05 a barrel at 9:29 a.m. Dubai time. Brent oil for October settlement rose 2 cents to $110.64 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange.

Rome-based Eni SpA will begin supplying the transitional council with gasoline and diesel fuel in the coming days that will eventually be paid for with crude oil, Chief Executive Officer Paolo Scaroni said yesterday after meeting Jibril. Eni, the biggest foreign investor in Libya, saw most of its production halted by the conflict.

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