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Libyan Rebels Call in NATO to Stop Qaddafi Counteroffensive as Fighting Rages

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August 23: Rebel fighters seen inside the main Muammar Qaddafi compound in Bab al-Aziziya in Tripoli, Libya. (AP)

Libyan rebels called in support from NATO jets to stop a counteroffensive by loyalist troops in Tripoli in the early hours of Friday, as the fight continued for full control of the city.

Forces loyal to the elusive Muammar Qaddafi staged two counterattacks at around 02:00am local time near the Bab al Aziziya compound and the Rixos hotel in central Tripoli, seemingly in a bid to reposition snipers to stem the rebel advance, Sky News reported quoting a rebel source.

The rebels called for assistance from NATO, and the alliance "destroyed" one of the counterattacks, the rebel source said. But one of the counteroffensives was successful, slowing the rebel push on the remaining pockets of resistance. Rebels were preparing for a renewed push to clear the area.

The Rixos hotel was where foreign journalists were forced to stay during the uprising, and a group of several dozen reporters were held there by Qaddafi gunmen for several days earlier this week.

NATO denied Thursday coordinating with the rebels and targeting Qaddafi, after Britain said the alliance was helping to hunt him down.

The situation in Tripoli remained tense Friday. The water supply to the city was cut off, and food was running low. Residents were organizing neighborhood watch efforts to root out snipers, and an increasing number of road blocks made travel around the city difficult.

The Transitional National Council (TNC) is now governing from the capital, having moved its headquarters there from the rebel stronghold of Benghazi in the east.

The whereabouts of Qaddafi was still unclear. Rebels said Thursday that they had surrounded Qaddafi in a residential area of Tripoli, but there was no sign of the despot, who later issued another defiant audio message.

The French presidency meanwhile said that Qaddafi was in his hometown Sirte, a coastal city 280 miles (450 kilometers) east of the capital that remains in loyalist hands, Le Parisien newspaper reported quoting sources close to President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Rebels fighting in the east were still attempting to push on Sirte, but were struggling to overcome a fierce defense in Bin Jawad and As Sidr.

NATO bombarded Sirte on Thursday, destroying 29 armed vehicles, according to the alliance's daily briefing. British Tornado aircraft on a long-range strike mission hit a "large headquarters bunker" in Sirte with precision-guided missiles, the Ministry of Defense said Friday.