Gadhafi prepares to flee

Reports say Libya’s Col. Moammar Gadhafi may be preparing to flee as the rebels close in on his territory. NBC’s Jim Miklaszewski reports from the Pentagon.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

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.
Libyan Embassy re-opens under new flag in D.C.

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.

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.

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.

FORUM | AMHARIC