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Gadhafi son emerges, quashes rebel claims

What appeared to be a climactic showdown between rebel and government forces in Libya a day earlier devolved into confusion and uncertainty Tuesday about whether ruler Moammar Gadhafi’s regime would fall anytime soon.

Sporadic fighting continued in Tripoli as two purported rebel accomplishments came unhinged.

On Monday, rebel leaders had said claimed they had captured three of Gadhafi’s sons, including Saif al-Islam — who is wanted on war crimes charges by the International Criminal Court.

But Tuesday, Saif al-Islam showed up at the Rixos Hotel, one of the remaining strongholds of pro-Gadhafi forces.

In a brief interview with CNN’s Matthew Chance, he said his father and several of his sisters were safe in Tripoli, and that loyal troops had “broken the back” of the rebels who moved into the capital over the weekend.

The second Gadhafi son, Mohammed Gadhafi, reportedly escaped from rebel custody, the Libyan ambassador to the United States said.

It was unclear Tuesday whether Saadi Gadhafi — the third son the rebels claimed to have captured — remained in their custody.

There was no immediate explanation from the National Transitional Council, the rebel leadership.

The rebels had most of Tripoli under their control late Monday, but pitched battles continued at various points around the city.

About 30 miles west, tracer fire, anti-aircraft guns and artillery were seen and heard around Zawiya, a key city during the rebel advance into Tripoli over the weekend.

Three missiles were fired from Gadhafi’s hometown of Sirte and landed in the coastal area of the rebel-held city of Misrata Monday evening, NATO reported. NATO said it had no reports of damage or injuries, but called the launches a “direct threat to innocent people.”

“Although the surface-to-surface missiles in Gadhafi’s arsenal are highly inaccurate, and are not designed to hit a specific target, they are a weapon of terror,” NATO said. “Their use against an urban or industrial area is utterly irresponsible.”

Amidst it all, the Libyan ruler’s whereabouts remained unknown.

“The real moment of victory is when Gadhafi is captured,” National Transitional Council Chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil told reporters in Benghazi, a rebel stronghold in the east.

Gadhafi has held power in Libya since a September 1969 coup. The rebellion against him began in February and has been aided by NATO airstrikes that began in March, under a U.N. mandate to protect civilians.

The revolt gained momentum rapidly in the past two weeks, with rebel forces launching their push on Tripoli over the weekend.

In a statement to reporters, U.S. President Barack Obama said that while the situation remained fluid, it was clear that “Gadhafi’s rule is over.”

“The pursuit of human dignity is stronger than any dictator,” he said.

Gadhafi took to the airwaves several times Sunday urging citizens, including women, to fight the rebels — whom he called “very small groups of people who are collaborators with the imperialists.”

If the Gadhafi regime falls, it would follow revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt this year in what is known as the Arab Spring. A spate of other countries in the region — including Bahrain, Yemen and Syria — have also seen protests by citizens demanding more freedom and a change in regime. In many cases, these demonstrations have been met with brute force.

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