Sewers run red with blood as Gaddafi’s men fight to death

One thousand rebels have bombarded buildings filled with regime fighters hiding amid civilians in a ferocious battle for Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi’s last major stronghold in Tripoli.

But with some fighters claiming they had Gaddafi surrounded in an apartment in the heart of the city, the Libyan leader sent a new message calling on his supporters to kill the rebels.

The bullet-ridden bodies of three Gaddafi soldiers in military uniforms lay on the ground outside a fire station in the battle-scarred Abu Salim neighbourhood and a few bodies of rebel soldiers were wrapped in blankets nearby. The sewers ran red with blood.

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Deafening explosions of outgoing mortars and the whistle of sniper fire filled air already clogged with smoke from burning buildings and weapons fire.

A mother ran out of one the buildings under siege, screaming for first aid for her wounded son. Behind her, the building’s glass windows were shattered and black smoke poured out of a burning apartment. Amid the din, the call to prayer wafted out from neighbourhood mosques.

Mahmoud Bakoush, a rebel commander at the site, said there were rumours that one of Gaddafi’s sons might be in the buildings, but that was not confirmed. The battles raged for at least four hours, then stopped at sundown.

Abu Salim, which is adjacent to Gaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziya compound seized by rebels on Tuesday, is thought to be the last major hotbed of regime brigades in Tripoli.

After hours of fierce fighting, reporters at the scene said rebels were making progress pushing them out. Many of the fighters are believed to have moved to Abu Salim from Bab al-Aziziya after the compound was captured and ransacked.

The rebels are struggling to take complete control of Tripoli, four days after they swept into the capital and sparked the collapse of Gaddafi’s regime.

The autocrat has refused to surrender and has vowed from hiding to fight on “until victory or martyrdom”. The rebel leadership has offered a bounty of £1 million on Gaddafi’s head.

The rebels know they will not be able to declare a full victory in the six-month-old civil war until Gaddafi is either captured or killed.

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“Don’t leave Tripoli for the rats. Fight them, fight them, and kill them,” Gaddafi said in audio message broadcast on Al-Rai television last night.

“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 the rebels will enter homes and rape their women. “They will enter your houses and deprive you of your honour,” he said. “Nato can’t remain in the air all the time.”

A regime spokesman said Gaddafi is safely in hiding and leading the battle against the rebels. Moussa Ibrahim said the longtime dictator was in Libya and his morale was high. Gaddafi “is indeed leading the battle for our freedom and independence” he said.

Mr Ibrahim refused to say where Gaddafi was hiding and added he himself was in an undisclosed location in Libya and constantly on the move.

“All of the leader’s family are fine,” he said, adding that top military and political aides remained with Gaddafi. He said Gaddafi was capable of continuing resistance for “weeks, months and years”.

Mr Ibrahim claimed Gaddafi’s forces controlled a “good portion” of the capital – a claim that contradicts what reporters are seeing on the ground.

In Abu Salim, rebels in pick-up trucks with anti-aircraft guns mounted on the back were hammering blocks of low-rise, four and five-storey buildings. Gaddafi forces responded with mortars and dynamite. Huge explosions filled the air continually, as buildings burned. Empty bullet-casings coated the streets.

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“They are holding at least ten tall buildings. They have heavy weaponry, maybe even a tank,” Mohammed Karami, a rebel involved in the battle, said of the Gaddafi loyalists.

A hospital in the middle of the battlefield was scorched and a fire station completely destroyed with the bullet-ridden bodies of three dead Gaddafi soldiers in the yard.

Rebels were hauling away prisoners, some of them with an African appearance – possibly mercenaries who have been defending Gaddafi.

In another part of Tripoli, a separate gunbattle erupted outside the Corinthia hotel. About a dozen rebels with machine guns and an anti-aircraft gun fired on what appeared to be loyalists shooting from high-rise buildings.

Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, head of the rebel National Transitional Council, called on people living in loyalist-held towns to join the fight against Gaddafi’s soldiers.