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Rebels, Regime Loyalists Clash as Gadhafi Vows ‘Victory or Martyrdom’

August 24, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
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RAY SUAREZ: The revolution in Libya isn’t over yet. Moammar Gadhafi and his immediate family are still at large. Firefights continue in the capital and elsewhere.

We begin our coverage with a report narrated by Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: Yesterday, they were celebrating its capture, but today Colonel Gadhafi’s compound was a battlefield once again.

The fighting was fierce. Libyan rebels used everything they had, even a gun designed to shoot down aircraft. The rebels say hundreds have been killed in Tripoli in the last few days, as a hard core of Gadhafi loyalists seems determined to fight until the last.

In a radio broadcast last night, the man once known as “Brother Leader” vowed to fight or die. “Victory or martyrdom,” he said, calling on Libyan tribes to march on the capital. The man who ruled for over 40 years hasn’t been seen in public since April. Today, Gadhafi’s former justice minister said he didn’t object to the colonel’s departure from Libya, as long as he faces international law. And he offered an amnesty and money if only someone would turn him in.

MUSTAFA ABDEL JALIL, head of Libyan National Council (through translator): Businessmen in Benghazi have set up an award of two million Libyan dinars for anyone who captures Gadhafi. And from another hand, the National Transitional Council announces that anyone from his inner circle who kills Gadhafi or captures him shall receive amnesty from the community.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: This is how Tripoli is looking tonight. Gadhafi’s forces mounted a fight-back for the colonel’s compound, but it failed. Loyalists have fled south along the airport road, from where there are reports they have been shooting civilians.

And Gadhafi’s gunmen are hiding in the zoo and forest areas near the Rixos Hotel. Gadhafi himself may have fled from his compound through one of his underground tunnels. The Abu Salim area to the south of the city seems to be where his followers are making their last stand.

This afternoon, there was smoke and the sound of gunfire from Abu Salim, while Gadhafi’s only daughter, Aisha, appealed by telephone to a TV station based in Syria for Libyans to rally round her father to stop Libya from becoming another Iraq.

This is rebel footage of one Saad Masud, one of the colonel’s leading bodyguards, who’s been captured. “Where is Gadhafi?” the rebels are heard asking him. And he shrugs in reply. Perhaps the prospect of a $1.3 million reward will provide some clues.

JEFFREY BROWN: The human cost of the civil war is mounting. And the continued fighting is bringing more casualties to hospitals.

James Mates of Independent Television News has that part of the story from Tripoli.

JAMES MATES: Just inside the main Gates of Gadhafi’s compound of Bab Al Aziziya, the battle is not over, far from it.

Shortly before we arrived here, a rebel soldier had been killed. His comrades fought back with every weapon they had. They clearly have the upper hand in this battle, but final victory still eludes them. The fighting has already cost at least 400 lives. And many hundreds more are lying injured in hospitals across Tripoli.

We found dozens, bodies horribly broken, receiving, at best, rudimentary care. Many are not fighters, but civilians, the inevitable casualties of street-to-street fighting in the middle of a crowded city.

Little Shahad Mohammed is just five years old. On Monday, shrapnel from a mortar shell almost severed three fingers on her right hand. The surgeons hope they may have saved her fingers, but in these conditions, with drugs in short supply and even fewer specialists, they can only hope.

DR. HAITEN DHAN, Zawiyah hospital: And the situation is crucial. We are suffering from lack of medical staff. And the snipers are still everywhere, certainly in the (INAUDIBLE) area. And they are still shooting just normal civilians and women and children.

JAMES MATES: The International Red Cross were able to get fresh drug supplies to this and two other hospitals in Tripoli this morning. It’s a start, but they’re going to need a great deal more in the days ahead.

In the hour or so that we have been in this emergency ward, we have seen half-a-dozen cases, maybe more, brought. We have also seen several dead bodies being taken out. However close the rebels may believe they are to winning this civil war, they are still paying a terrible price.

Across the city, 35 foreigners who’ve been held captive by forces loyal to the Gadhafi regime were finally this evening driven back to freedom, mostly journalists, but including a former U.S. congressman and an Indian parliamentarian. They hadn’t officially been hostages, but they most certainly had been held against their will and had clearly feared for their lives. Their captors were guards who couldn’t grasp that the regime they served had been swept away.

TADEK MARKOWSKI, FOX News: It finally dawned on them that Gadhafi was no more. At least his apparatus was gone. And they eventually put down their weapons. We didn’t want to force the issue with them. At the end of the day, there was just two of them who were armed, but it was getting increasingly threatening, increasingly hostile.

JAMES MATES: They thanked the Red Cross staff who had driven them to safety and posed for a souvenir photo.