Last Updated: Fri Aug 26, 2011 12:59 pm (KSA) 09:59 am (GMT)

Al Arabiya at rebel-controlled Tripoli airport amid intense battles

A rebel fighter walks near an aircraft which was set on fire by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi during a fight at Tripoli Airport. (Photo by REUTERS)
A rebel fighter walks near an aircraft which was set on fire by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi during a fight at Tripoli Airport. (Photo by REUTERS)

Al Arabiya was the first Arab TV channel to enter the Tripoli International Airport on Thursday after it was controlled by rebel groups.

A rebel commander told an Al Arabiya correspondent at the airport, Khalil Weld Jdoud, that Qaddafi forces had bombed planes at the airport.

According to the correspondent, fierce fighting was taking place between Qaddafi forces and the rebel fighters along the highway leading to the airport.

He added that Qaddafi forces bombed the airport with Grad rockets and destroyed an Airbus 330; there were no injuries among protesters

Intense battles raged Thursday between about 1,000 rebels surrounding 10 buildings filled with Muammar Qaddafi loyalists in the neighborhood next to the Libyan leader’s captured compound. Qaddafi, in a new audio message, called on Libyans to destroy the rebels.

A regime spokesman told The Associated Press that Qaddafi is safely in hiding and leading the battle against the rebels.

AP reporters on the scene of the battle in the Abu Salim neighborhood said rebels were hammering at least 10 buildings sheltering Qaddafi loyalists with anti-aircraft guns. There were huge explosions, and the air was heavy 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 Qaddafi loyalists.

Mahmoud Bakoush, a rebel commander at the site, said there were rumors that one of Qaddafi’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,” Qaddafi said in an audio message broadcast on Al Orouba TV. “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.”

He warned that the rebels will enter people's homes and rape their women.

“They will enter your houses and deprive you of your honor,” he said. “NATO can’t remain in the air all the time.”

Qaddafi spokesman Moussa Ibrahim, in a call to AP’s Cairo office, said the longtime dictator was in Libya and his morale was high. Qaddafi “is indeed leading the battle for our freedom and independence” said Ibrahim, who was recognizable by his voice.

Ibrahim refused to say where Qaddafi 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 Qaddafi.

He said Qaddafi was capable of continuing resistance for “weeks, months and years.”

Ibrahim claimed Qaddafi’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 Qaddafi strongholds such as Sirte.

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