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NBC: Gadhafi making plans for leaving Libya

Moammar Gadhafi is making preparations for a departure from Libya with his family for possible exile in Tunisia, U.S. officials have told NBC News, citing intelligence reports.
/ Source: NBC News and news services

Moammar Gadhafi is making preparations for a departure from Libya with his family for possible exile in Tunisia, U.S. officials have told NBC News, citing intelligence reports.

One official suggested it was possible that Gadhafi would leave within days, NBC News reported.

The information obtained by NBC News follows a series of optimistic statements this week from U.S. officials that Gadhafi would soon give up the five-month-old fight and and leave Libya.

In an on-camera forum at the National Defense University this week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said, "I think the sense is that Gadhafi's days are numbered."

The officials could provide no further details as to conditions or precise timing for Gadhafi's departure, NBC said, and the news report emphasized that there was no guarantee that Gadhafi would follow through on any plans to flee.

Gadhafi is becoming more isolated in the capital, Tripoli.

Rebel fighters are closing in from the west and the south while NATO controls the seas to the north. The opposition is in control of most of the eastern half of the country and has declared Benghazi, 620 miles east of Tripoli, as its de facto capital.

Rebel forces have managed to surround Tripoli and appear to be attempting to cut off supplies and fuel to trigger a collapse, NBC News reported. Families were seen driving away from the city.

Refinery taken
The intelligence reports were revealed as opposition fighters in Libya's western mountains claimed control Thursday of the country's last functioning oil refinery, a blow to Gadhafi's regime in a week of stunning rebel advances.

The refinery is located in the strategic city of Zawiya, where rebels have made great strides in battles with government forces since their initial assault on Saturday.

"We have full control over the Zawiya oil refinery and we have liberated the whole city except two main streets," Col. Ali Ahrash told The Associated Press.

An uprising in Libya ousts dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

The capture of the 120,000-barrel-per-day refinery in Zawiya is not expected to have a major impact on Gadhafi's ability to secure fuel.

The flow of crude to the refinery from fields in the southwest of Libya had largely been halted since midsummer. The refinery was believed to be running at about one-third of its normal capacity, drawing mainly on crude oil that was in its storage tanks. Zawiya mostly produced fuel oil, not gasoline.

The BBC reported that one of its news crews were taken around the refinery by rebels and that there was no sign of pro-Gadhafi troops.

Zawiyais is just 30 miles to the east of Tripoli, along the Mediterranean coast.

A Libyan rebel fighter carries a rocket-propelled grenade in Sabratha, 50 miles (75 kilometers) west of Tripoli, Libya, Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2011. (AP Photo/Giulio Petrocco)Giulio Petrocco / AP

Ahrash, who was in Benghazi, said rebels have control of the cities of Surman, Sabratha and Zwara, as well as the road to Tunisia from Tripoli.

Families fleeing their homes to avoid a possible rebel assault on Tripoli described growing tensions and deteriorating living conditions in the capital: Security forces have blanketed the city with checkpoints, gun battles are heard after nightfall and power outages last days.

Explosions in Tripoli
Early Friday morning explosions rocked Gadhafi's main compound of Bab al-Aziziyah.

Seven thunderous blasts could be felt at a Tripoli hotel where foreign journalists stay.

An Associated Press correspondent watched flames from the bombs fall from the sky as NATO jets circled over the compound.

Five loud explosions also shook the center of Tripoli on Thursday afternoon, possibly striking near Gadhafi's compound. NATO jets flew overhead minutes after the blasts. It wasn't immediately clear what was hit or if there were civilian casualties. NATO has bombarded military targets all over Libya since March when a no-fly zone was instituted.

Besides the seizure of the refinery, Ahrash told the AP that rebels were making progress in taking Zawiya, a city of 200,000 people.

He said Gadhafi troops were still in control of Gamal Abdel-Nasser Street and were hiding in the hospital there. Ahrash said Omar Mokhtar Street was still under Gadhafi forces control and that a few more troops were patrolling in eastern Zawiya.

Since the rebels entered Zawiya last week — their most dramatic advance yet after months of stalemate — Gadhafi's troops have been pounding homes, mosques and streets with rockets and mortar fire.

"In the past three days we have lost 70 fighters and more than 55 were injured," he said.

Libya's civil war began in February, with the rebels quickly wresting control of much of the eastern half of the country, as well as pockets in the west.

The conflict later settled into a stalemate with the rebels failing to budge the front lines in the east since April.

However, in recent weeks, rebels based in the western Nafusa mountains have advanced toward Gadhafi-held towns along the coast.

Back in Tripoli, Prime Minister al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi said the government was in negotiations with rebels.

"We are also calling on all sides for a cease-fire," al-Mahmoudi said.

Gadhafi's government has previously called for a cease-fire, but continued to bomb towns where rebels tried to take power.

On a second front, hundreds of miles from Zawiya around the coastal town of Brega, rebels clashed with Gadhafi troops for control of that town's refinery.

Rebels control the two residential units in the oil terminal but have spent almost a week fighting for the refinery.