A Libyan spokesman said Wednesday that revolutionary forces have captured some fighters close to one of Moammar Gadhafi's sons in the fugitive leader's hometown but that he has no information that the son himself has been seized.
Jalal el-Gallal, a spokesman for the National Transitional Council in the eastern city of Benghazi, said his office has called commanders in the besieged city of Sirte and "so far as we are concerned there is no confirmation that Mutassim Gadhafi has been captured."
He was commenting on reports that the son had been seized, which prompted heavy celebratory gunfire in Tripoli and the eastern city of Benghazi.
Anti-Gadhafi fighters have been closing in on armed supporters of the fugitive leader in Sirte, the most important of two major cities yet to be cleared of loyalists more than two months after the fall of Tripoli. Libyan officials have said they believe Mutassim Gadhafi and other high-level former regime figures are hiding in Sirte and that is the reason for the fierce resistance.
Mutassim was Libya's national security adviser and had a strong role in the military and security forces under his father's regime.
Libya's de facto leader, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, said earlier Wednesday he expected to declare total victory in less than a week, which would pave the way for a new interim government to be named to guide the oil-rich North African nation to elections within eight months.
"I hope that liberation will be declared in less than a week, after we free Sirte, and within less than a month we will form a transitional government and the youth and women will have a role in that," Abdul-Jalil said at a joint news conference with visiting Tunisian Prime Minister Caid Essebsi in Benghazi.
Gadhafi is still on the run and his supporters also hold the desert enclave of Bani Walid. But the transitional leadership says Sirte's capture will give them full control of the country's ports and harbors, allowing them to move forward with efforts to restore normalcy and establish a democracy.
The International Committee of the Red Cross warned that thousands of civilians were still trapped inside Sirte without sufficient food, clean water and other basic necessities. Red Cross staff evacuated 25 war-wounded and other patients, including a newborn baby in its incubator, from the main Ibn Sina hospital in the coastal city on Monday and Tuesday. Few doctors or nurses remained, the Red Cross said in a statement.
"The situation inside the hospital is very chaotic and distressing," the ICRC's Patrick Schwaerzler said. "When we arrived there, we found patients with severe burns and shrapnel wounds. Some had sustained recent amputations. A few were half-conscious. They were lying among crowds of other people who were also asking us for help."
The hospital has been partly destroyed and is no longer functional, he added.
Most families have fled the fighting, but a few remain, either because they are fighting revolutionary forces or had no choice.
"My father is old and disabled and I couldn't leave him. He's 90 years old and lives with me, so we stayed. Whatever happens, we can do nothing about it," 42-year-old Ali Aggi said as revolutionary officials visited his home while his three sons looked on. His father, also named Ali, lay in bed, too old and feeble to talk.
NTC officials promised to arrange to have his father evacuated, giving Ali a chance to leave with the rest of his family. He said he would make a decision in coming days.
"We saw hundreds of civilians fleeing Sirte yesterday and today, but thousands are still caught inside the city," Schwaerzler said, adding there is no electricity and civilians have received no food for weeks.
He called on all parties to take all possible precautions to spare civilians.
More than 20,000 people, among them many women, children and elderly people, have so far left their homes in Sirte. In addition, dozens of people have been arrested in recent days.
Amnesty International, meanwhile, called on Libyan authorities to immediately halt random detentions and prisoner abuse as it released a report alleging that captured soldiers and suspected loyalists from Gadhafi's regime are being beaten and sometimes tortured in custody.
The human rights advocacy group visited 11 detention facilities in and around Tripoli and the nearby city of Zawiya between Aug. 18, shortly before the Libyan capital fell to revolutionary forces, and Sept. 21. The report was based on interviews with about 300 prisoners.
Researchers found a wooden stick, rope and a rubber hose "of the kind that could be used to beat detainees, including on the soles of their feet." They also heard the sound of whipping and screams from a cell in one detention center, and guards admitted they beat detainees to extract confessions, the report said.
It said armed militias have detained as many as 2,500 people, most without legal orders, in the western area since late August. Sub-Saharan Africans suspected of being mercenaries who fought for Gadhafi made up between a third and a half of those detained. Some were released after no evidence was found to link them to bloodshed.
Al-Shaheibi reported from Benghazi. Associated Press journalist Christopher Gillette contributed to this report from Sirte.