TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Intense battles raged Thursday between about 1,000 rebels surrounding 10 buildings filled with Moammar Gadhafi loyalists in the neighborhood next to the Libyan leader's captured compound. Gadhafi, in a new audio message, called on Libyans to destroy the rebels.
A regime spokesman told The Associated Press Gadhafi 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 Gadhafi loyalists with anti-aircraft guns. There were huge explosions, and the air was clogged 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 Gadhafi loyalists.
Mahmoud Bakoush, a rebel commander at the site, said there were rumors that one of Gadhafi'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," Gadhafi said in audio message broadcast on Al-Arabiya television. "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."
Gadhafi spokesman Moussa Ibrahim, in a call to AP's Cairo office, said the longtime dictator was in Libya and his morale was high. Gadhafi "is indeed leading the battle for our freedom and independence" said Ibrahim, who was recognizable by his voice.
Ibrahim refused to say where Gadhafi 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 Gadhafi.
He said Gadhafi was capable of continuing resistance for "weeks, months and years."
Ibrahim claimed Gadhafi'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 Gadhafi strongholds such as Sirte.