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Heavy Fighting Reported In Tripoli As Qaddafi Deputy Defects


A man carries a stone slate used to seal a grave during the funerals of three rebels killed in the battle for control of Brega on August 18.

A man carries a stone slate used to seal a grave during the funerals of three rebels killed in the battle for control of Brega on August 18.

Rebels working to overthrow longtime Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi claim they have wrested parts of the capital Tripoli out of Qaddafi's hands.

A rebel spokesman, Abdullah Melitan, said the rebels infiltrated the capital Tripoli by sea on August 21 in a covert operation launched from their western enclave of Misurata.

The conflicting reports could not be independently verified, but NATO officials warned that it is becoming difficult to correctly identify airstrike targets because battles lines are moving so fast.

If confirmed, the rebels' presence in Tripoli signals what could be a decisive shift in the deadly months-long conflict.

Witnesses reported gunfire and rocket fire throughout Tripoli on August 21 as government forces clashed with the NATO-backed rebels working to overthrow longtime Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.

The violence in Tripoli comes amid reports that Qaddafi's second-in-command has fled Libya and is now in Italy, in a further blow to the embattled ruler.

Italian Minister Ignazio La Russa officially confirmed that Abdel-Salam Jalloud was in the country in comments made to news agencies in Sicily earlier today.

Meanwhile, Qaddafi released an audio recording overnight saying he will not back down and slamming the rebels as "rats." .

Qaddafi's comments echoed those of his son, Saif al-Islam, who vowed that the government would never back down in comments made on national television on August 20:

"This matter of surrender, or the white flag, is not something that anyone should be speaking about," he said, "because it's rejected, because it's not a decision by Muammar Gaddafi or Saif al-Islam, this is the decision of the Libyan people."

The rebels, however, maintain that Qaddafi's rule is nearing its end.

Al-Jazeera said news of the reported fighting in Tripoli sent jubilant crowds into the streets of Benghazi, a rebel stronghold.

Earlier, reports said the rebels had taken full control of the port city of Brega.

The seizure of Brega, some 750 kilometers east of Tripoli, is the latest gain as the rebels close in on the capital, Tripoli.

The rebels had been moving toward Tripoli from the northwestern city of Zawiyah for the past two days and reportedly arrived in the city on the night of August 20-21.

Rebels have been fighting since February to oust Qaddafi who has ruled Libya for 42 years.

compiled from agency reports

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