Gaddafi manhunt: rebels and NATO close in

British Tornado jets have fired cruise missiles at Colonel Gaddafi’s command and control bunker in his hometown of Sirte, despite previous claims the coalition would not assist rebels in hunting him down. The colonel’s whereabouts are still unknown.

Earlier Libyan rebels said they had sent Special Forces to hunt down Gaddafi, whose loyalists are still fighting in Tripoli. They also tried to reach Sirte, Gaddafi's hometown, but met with fierce resistance.

Unconfirmed reports claim NATO planes bombarded Sirte overnight. Meanwhile, the UN has urged all sides in the Libyan conflict to avoid acts of violence and revenge.

Libya's rebels have pushed up their assault on the capital in the last 24 hours, storming what seems to be Colonel Gaddafi’s last base in the Abu Salim neighborhood of Tripoli. That operation resulted in several gun battles between Gaddafi’s loyalists and the opposition.

The rebels have also tried to reach Sirte, Gaddafi's hometown, but were met with fierce resistance. There were unconfirmed reports that NATO planes bombarded the city overnight.

"At around midnight, a formation of Tornado GR4s…fired a salvo of Storm Shadow precision guided missiles against a large headquarters bunker in Sirte," the British Ministry of Defense said in a statement.

However, British Defense Secretary Liam Fox denied NATO was targeting Gaddafi.

"It's not a question of finding Gaddafi. It's ensuring the regime does not have the capability to continue waging war against its own people," he said, as cited by Reuters, adding that "the attack that we launched on the bunker in Sirte last night was to make sure that there was no alternative command and control should the regime try to leave Tripoli."

A team from the International Committee of the Red Cross gather as they stand next to one of many dead bodies in the general hospital in the restive Abu Salim neighborhood of Tripoli, on August 26, 2011 (AFP Photo / Patrick Baz)
A team from the International Committee of the Red Cross gather as they stand next to one of many dead bodies in the general hospital in the restive Abu Salim neighborhood of Tripoli, on August 26, 2011 (AFP Photo / Patrick Baz)

The United Nations has addressed both sides in the Libyan conflict, appealing for them to make sure no more violence will take place in the country. The appeal followed alleged reports of mass killings and abuse by both rebels and Gaddafi troops.

The US, together with South Africa, has also tied up a deal to release $1.5bn in frozen Libyan funds, which is believed to be a means of humanitarian aid.

Meanwhile, the Libyan opposition said it urgently needed at least $5 billion in frozen assets to pay state salaries, maintain vital services and repair critical oil facilities.

The South African delegation, however, said it objected to the funds going straight to the Libyan rebel government, the National Transitional Council (NTC), which the majority of the African Union countries have refused to recognize officially. Twenty African states have formally recognized the NTC as Libya's legitimate government, Reuters cites African Union officials as saying on Friday, but the 54-member bloc as a whole would not do so.

"Because if it's NTC, then it means that we are agreeing as the 15 collective council members to say yes to the NTC and we have not all recognized it," a spokeswoman for the South African UN mission told an Al Jazeera correspondent.

Libyan rebels have said they had begun transferring their administration from Benghazi to the capital, Tripoli, which they announced on Thursday, and claim that about a half the NTC leaders are already there.

The Libyan rebel leadership repeatedly pleaded with the US and other countries on Friday to unfreeze billions of dollars, saying the funds are vital for the country to establish peace and stability.

The call for funds comes a day after the UN Security Council's sanctions committee has ruled to unfreeze $1.5 billion of some $100 billion of Libyan assets.

Joseph Daher, a Middle East Expert, believes now that the Libyan National Transitional Council is to receive some of Gaddafi’s frozen assets the key question still remains – what is going to be the role of the NTC for the following eight months? 

“Now they are going to receive a huge amount of money,” Daher told RT, “how is this money going to be handled? To whom is it going to go?”

“Will the NTC include people from the western part of Libya, as now there are mostly people from the eastern side of Libya?”

“People have to pressure the leadership of the NTC to keep the revolution in their hands and not in the hands of NATO or Western countries,” he added. “The only issue for the Western countries is to protect their interests, so that the oil is going to stay in Western hands. They only want to have the hold in Libya to protect their economic and political interests.”

Watch Maria Finoshina’s report for RT from Tripoli.