War and peace mix in Tripoli

TRIPOLI, Libya — Tripoli was a city abuzz with both joy and fear Thursday as residents of some neighborhoods emerged to replenish food supplies even as a pitched battle raged at the compound that had been fugitive leader Moammar Gadhafi's headquarters for nearly 42 years.

Rebels proclaimed that they believed they had cornered Gadhafi and some of his inner circle in a cluster of apartments near the Bab al Aziziya compound, but it was unclear why they thought so. At nightfall Gadhafi remained free, though not for any lack of eagerness on the part of residents here.

"We will hang him in Green Square — after the trial," said Imad Shaban, a resident of the Dara neighborhood who was standing guard at a checkpoint. "But if I found him myself, I would kill him."

Butchers, bakeries and grocery stores reopened in some neighborhoods, though the threat of violence remained palpable. Explosions and gunfire continued near Tripoli's main airport, and a sniper attacked the Corinthia Hotel, where many of the foreign journalists who have flocked to this city are housed. He was silenced with a barrage of rebel gunfire.

News agencies reported that a Maltese relief ship sent to retrieve foreigners trapped in Tripoli had turned back because the intended passengers couldn't make it to the harbor because of fighting. But the port itself appeared to be under rebel control and quiet.

Hope that the rebels would make short work of pro-Gadhafi forces faded elsewhere.

In the country's east, rebels were thwarted as they tried to move west along Libya's coastal highway. At least 20 rebels were reported killed at the town of Bin Jawwad, about 400 miles east of Tripoli, when they were ambushed by Gadhafi forces who had retreated from the oil refinery town of Ras Lanouf, 30 miles away. It was a replay of a battle March 29 when rebels also were surprised at Bin Jawwad, that time by pro-Gadhafi townspeople, in a setback that marked the beginning of what became a five-month stalemate.

The toughest fight yet could turn out to be in Sirte, Gadhafi's hometown, about 250 miles east of Tripoli. Rebels said they wouldn't be surprised if Gadhafi's fellow tribesmen launched a counterattack as the anti-regime forces advanced.