As the Moroccan government recognised the Libyan opposition as the legitimate representative of the North African country’s people, rocket and machine-gun fire from pockets of loyalists kept the fighters at bay as they tried to hunt down Gaddafi and his sons.
Rebels ransacked Gaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziya bastion, seizing arms and smashing symbols of a ruler whose fall will transform Libya and rattle other Arab autocrats facing uprisings.
“Gaddafi’s forces and his accomplices will not stop resisting until Gaddafi is caught or killed,” said Mustafa Abdel Jalil, head of the rebels’ National Council, who offered amnesty to any of his entourage who kill the fallen strongman.
“The end will only come when he’s captured, dead or alive.”
Gaddafi said the withdrawal from his headquarters in the heart of the capital was a tactical move after it had been hit by 64 NATO air strikes. He vowed “martyrdom” or victory in his six-month war against the Western alliance and Libyan foes. Urging Libyans to cleanse the streets of traitors, he said he had secretly toured Tripoli.
“I have been out a bit in Tripoli discreetly, without being seen by people, and... I did not feel that Tripoli was in danger,” Gaddafi told loyalist media outlets.
His whereabouts after leaving the compound, possibly via a tunnel network, are unknown, but he app-ears to have been in Tripoli, at least until recently.
Residents remained fearful, with empty streets, shuttered shops and piles of garbage, testifying that life is still far from normal.
Rebels manned checkpoints along the main thoroughfare into the city from the west.
People were defacing or erasing Gaddafi portraits and other symbols. Plaques were torn off government offices as people painted over street names and renamed them for rebel fighters who had become “martyrs”.
“There are some fights going but hopefully today everything will be over,” one rebel fighter said.
Fighting was reported on Tuesday night in a southern desert city, Sabha, that rebels forecast would be Gaddafi loyalists’ last redoubt.
Pro-Gaddafi forces were shelling the towns of Zuara and Ajelat, west of Tripoli.
Omar al-Ghirani, a rebel spokesman, said loyalist forces had fired seven Grad missiles at residential areas of the capital, causing people to flee their homes in panic.
He said Gaddafi troops also fired mortar rounds in the area of Tripoli airport.
The continued shooting suggests the six-month insurgency against Gaddafi has not yet completely triumphed. A spokesman for Gaddafi said he was ready to resist the rebels for months, or even years.
“We will turn Libya into a volcano of lava and fire under the feet of the invaders and their treacherous agents,” Moussa Ibrahim told pro-Gaddafi channels.
But Gaddafi was already history in the eyes of the rebels and their political leaders planned high-level talks in Qatar with envoys of the US, Britain, France, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates on the way ahead.
A senior representative said a new government would honour all oil contracts granted during the Gaddafi era.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev urged Gaddafi and his foes to stop fighting and talk.
“We want the Libyans to come to an agreement among themselves,” Med-vedev said, suggesting that Moscow could recognise the rebel government if it unites the country. But the victors are in no mood for dialogue with Gaddafi.
The hunt to find Gaddafi is now on. Colonel Ahmed Bani, a rebel, told Al-Arabiya TV he was probably holed up somewhere in Tripoli. “It will take a long time to find him,” he said.
Rebel National Council chief Abdel Jalil, who was until February a loyal minister of Gaddafi, cautioned: “It is too early to say that the battle of Tripoli is over. That won’t happen until Gaddafi and his sons are captured.”