Tripoli, Libya (CNN) — Two of Moammar Gadhafi’s sons — Saif al-Islam and Saadi — have been arrested by opposition forces in Tripoli, rebel officials said.
There was no immediate reaction from Libyan government officials to the claims. CNN could not confirm the arrests, and there was no documentation provided by the rebels to verify the report.
Ali Said, general secretary of the Benghazi-based Transitional National Council, said late Sunday that Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, a top official in the regime, had been arrested in the capital.
International Criminal Court spokeswoman Florence Olara also said he’d been arrested. The court, based in The Hague, had issued an arrest warrant for Saif al-Islam Gadhafi as well as his father and uncle Abdullah al-Sanussi.
Then, early Monday, Jumma Ibrahim — a rebel spokesman based in Libya’s western mountain region — confirmed Saif al-Islam’s arrest and said that another of the leader’s sons, Saadi, had been arrested as well.
The businessman and onetime professional soccer player helped set up an April CNN interview with a woman who claimed she’d been raped by government troops. Saadi Gadhafi later told CNN that those behind the attack should be prosecuted.
The rebel spokesman, Ibrahim, also said that opposition forces have made it to Tripoli’s Green Square, where Gadhafi supporters have gathered regularly to express their loyalty to Libya’s long-time leader.
“The rebel fighters are in control of most of the neighborhoods in Tripoli,” he said.
Late Saturday, Saif al-Islam — who had emerged as a leading spokesman for the regime since the unrest began in February — had laughed off reports of rebels taking Tripoli and claimed they were losing every battle.
But that account ran counter to reports from CNN reporters, witnesses and rebel officials on the ground. A NATO spokesman, in fact, said earlier Sunday that Moammar Gadhafi’s “regime is crumbling.”
In an audio address broadcast just before midnight — his second of the day — the longtime Libyan leader claimed that “very small groups of people who are collaborators with the imperialists” were fighting inside the capital. He also blasted the rebels who have been fighting to unseat him as “traitors.”
“How can you let Tripoli, Libyan’s capital, fall once again to occupation?” he said. “How can you let it become a military circus? … It can’t fall!”
Should the opposition prevail, Gadhafi said NATO would not protect them and predicted massive bloodshed. To prevent this, he said, Libyans — he included a special appeal to women — should go out and fight.
“Get out and lead, lead, lead the people to paradise,” he said.
While the Libyan leader earlier predicted he’d win the battle, NATO said the end of his 42-year reign as the North African nation’s ruler was near. NATO, under a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing force to protect Libyan civilians, has conducted 7,549 strike sorties in Libya since the end of March.
“The Gadhafi regime is clearly crumbling,” NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a statement. “The sooner Gadhafi realizes that he cannot win the battle against his own people, the better — so that the Libyan people can be spared further bloodshed and suffering.”
Earlier Sunday, NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu claimed “the territory (Gadhafi) controls is shrinking fast, his closest allies are packing their bags, and the people of Tripoli are rising.”
Gunfire crackled and explosions rocked the capital Sunday night, as the six-month-long conflict finally approached Gadhafi’s doorstep. Libyan government spokesman Musa Ibrahim told reporters just after 11 p.m. Sunday that some 1,300 people had been killed and about 5,000 wounded in fighting in the previous 12 hours.
“(The city) is being turned into a hellfire,” he said.
Col. Roland Lavoie, a NATO spokesman based at the Joint Forces Command in Naples, Italy, said the situation was “very dynamic and very tense” Sunday after a spate of mostly small-scale skirmishes in downtown Tripoli and near the sea. While there was no sense of massive encounters, there were large movements of troops by both sides outside the city.
“Gadhafi is clearly losing his capabilities, and I think we all know how this will end. We just don’t know when,” Lavoie said. “He still has some command and control, as we saw a SCUD missile fired yesterday, so let’s not conclude it is over.”
One fierce gun battle broke out Sunday evening near the hotel where many international reporters were stationed in Tripoli. Many government officials packed their suitcases and left the hotel earlier in the day.
A woman in Tripoli said late Sunday that she and others went outside, “screaming” and calling for Gadhafi’s ouster — and had plenty of company.
“We realized that no one wants him, no one wants this dictator,” the resident said.
Musa Ibrahim told CNN on Sunday that “more than 65,000 professional men” are fighting in Tripoli, with thousands more flooding in to help defend the regime, and added that they “can hold for much longer.” He acknowledged “continuous fighting” in the city, predicting a “humanitarian disaster” unless an immediate ceasefire is called.
“It’s not about who will win,” he said. “The world needs to hear this message, that a massacre will be committed in Tripoli if one side wins now.”
The spokesman denied an Al-Arabiya report that Gadhafi’s guard had surrendered, calling it “false information.”
In a statement, the Transitional National Council said its fighters would follow international protocols in order to protect civilians, among other measures.
“The guidelines … demonstrate the NTC’s commitment to do its best to ensure that those fighting in its name, through adherence to the principles of international humanitarian law, minimize the harm to the Libyan people,” the statement said. “This will facilitate the effective reconciliation and reconstruction of our nation once the fighting ends.”
Libyan state television reported Sunday that dozens of armed rebels were arrested south of Zawiya — a key coastal city about 30 miles west of Tripoli — and their weapons were seized.
But the city of Zawiya early Monday appeared fully under rebel control. In fact, celebratory gunfire and fireworks rung out as people celebrated the opposition forces push into Tripoli. Some yelled out, “Libya is free!”
Some areas of eastern Tripoli, including the suburb of Tajoura, were out of government control Sunday, according to a Libyan government official who asked not to be named. Rebels set car tires afire along barricades there, the official said.
The official said 65,000 troops loyal to Gadhafi are ready to defend Tripoli, and warned that a massacre would occur if NATO continued to back rebel efforts.
Aref Ali Nayed, an ambassador in the United Arab Emirates for the Libyan rebels’ Transitional National Council, said opposition forces were calling Sunday “Day 1.”
“The reason we declare it ‘Day 1’ is because we feel Gadhafi is already finished. He is already finished, most importantly, in our hearts,” he said. “We no longer fear him.”
Jumma Ibrahim, a rebel spokesman from the western mountain region around Zintan, claimed opposition fighters had taken control of the main intelligence operations building in Tripoli.
He also said some Libyan army personnel had defected and joined the rebels in the area of the capital’s airport, which he claimed the rebels took over.
But government spokesman Ibrahim denied that the airport had switched hands, insisting all of Tripoli was safe and under the control of Gadhafi’s forces.
CNN could not immediately confirm whether rebel fighters had taken control of any parts of the city, including the airport. But network staffers on the ground reports that this weekend’s fighting appears to be among the most intense yet in Tripoli.
The fighters will continue to get significant support from NATO, said Lungescu, the alliance spokeswoman. NATO made 22 “key hits” in the Tripoli area Saturday, including on several military facilities, with Lavoie saying the alliance conducted more strikes Sunday to maintain pressure on Gadhafi’s forces.
Ibrahim, the government spokesman, blamed NATO for the conflict and appealed for a cease-fire.
“Every drop of Libyan blood shed by these rebels is the responsibility of the Western world, especially NATO’s countries,” he said. “We hold (U.S. President Barack) Obama, (British Prime Minister David) Cameron and (French President Nicolas) Sarkozy morally responsible for every single unnecessary death that takes place in this country.”
But Lungescu, the NATO spokeswoman, told CNN on Sunday that the Gadhafi regime is to blame for all the bloodshed over the last six months.
“What we’ve seen consistently, systematically and brutally are attacks by the Gadhafi regime (on civilians),” she said. “NATO has consistently defended the U.N. mandate, and we have saved countless lives.”
Officials briefed Obama on the situation in Libya Sunday morning and the president will continue to receive updates, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta also received a detailed situational update, a senior Pentagon official said, and U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is being “briefed regularly” as well.
“Gadhafi’s days are numbered,” said Nuland. “If Gadhafi cared about the welfare of the Libyan people, he would step down now.”
A Maltese ship seeking to evacuate foreign nationals from Libya on Sunday came under heavy fire when a rebel-controlled ship ambushed it near the Libyan coastline in an apparent hijack attempt. As the captain tried to steer toward Tripoli’s port, Gadhafi forces began firing at the rebels, leaving the Maltese ship in the crossfire.
No injuries were reported, but the Maltese ship was forced to turn around. The foreign nationals remained stranded in Libya.
In the rebel hub of Benghazi, meanwhile, CNN iReporter Sammi Addahoumi showed video of large, boisterous crowds in the city’s Freedom Square reacting as reports of the developments played on a large screen.
“The spirits are quite high,” said Addahoumi, a 28-year-old deli manager from South Carolina who said his father fled Benghazi decades ago. “Everyone is expecting Tripoli to fall.”
In the first of his speeches on state television Sunday, though, Gadhafi said the rebels — whom he described as “infidels,” “traitors” and “gangsters” — would fail and vowed not to back down.
“This is the hour of victory,” he said. “This hour is the hour of defiance.”