Moammar Gadhafi's snipers and tanks are terrorizing civilians in the coastal city of Misrata, a resident said, and the U.S. military warned Tuesday it was "considering all options" in response to dire conditions there that have left people cowering in darkened homes and scrounging for food and rainwater.
The United States is days away from turning over control of the air assault on Libya to other countries, President Obama said. Just how that will be accomplished remains in dispute. Obama spoke Tuesday with British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy in hopes of quickly resolving the squabble over the transition.
"When this transition takes place, it is not going to be our planes that are maintaining the no-fly zone. It is not going to be our ships that are necessarily enforcing the arms embargo. That's precisely what the other nations are going to do," the president said at a news conference in El Salvador, where he journeyed this week as part of a Latin American trip.
The Libyan crisis propelled Obama to skip a planned tour of El Salvador's Mayan ruins this morning. Instead, he will convene a conference call with his national security staff before departing for Washington, aides announced late Tuesday.
Gadhafi, meanwhile, made his first public appearance in a week, promising enthusiastic supporters at his residential compound in Tripoli, "In the short term, we'll beat them, in the long term, we'll beat them."
Libyan state TV broadcast what it said was live coverage of Gadhafi's less-than-five-minute statement. Standing on a balcony, he denounced the coalition bombing attacks on his forces.
"O great Libyan people, you have to live now, this time of glory, this is a time of glory that we are living," he said.
State TV said Gadhafi was speaking from Bab Al-Aziziya, his residential compound that was hit by a cruise missile Sunday night.
Heavy anti-aircraft fire and loud explosions sounded in Tripoli after nightfall, possibly a new attack in the international air campaign that so far has focused on military targets.
One of Gadhafi's sons might have been killed, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told ABC News on Tuesday. She cited unconfirmed reports and did not say which son she meant. She said the "evidence is not sufficient" to confirm this.
Clinton also told ABC that people close to Gadhafi are making contact with people abroad to explore options for the future, but she did not say that one of the options might be exile. She said they were asking, "What do we do? How do we get out of this? What happens next?"
Residents of Misrata, 125 miles southeast of Tripoli, described shelling and sniper attacks as unrelenting. A doctor said tanks opened fire Monday on a peaceful protest.
"The number of dead are too many for our hospital to handle," the doctor said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals if the city falls to Gadhafi's troops. As for food, he said, "We share what we find, and if we don't find anything, which happens, we don't know what to do."
Neither the rebels nor Gadhafi's forces are strong enough to hold Misrata or Ajdabiya, a key city in the east that also has become a daily battleground. But the airstrikes and missiles that are the weapons of choice for international forces may be of limited use.
"When there's fighting in urban areas and combatants are mixing and mingling with civilians, the options are vastly reduced," said Fred Abrahams, a special adviser at Human Rights Watch.
Most of eastern Libya is in rebel hands, but the force -- with more enthusiasm than discipline -- has struggled to take advantage of the gains from the international air campaign, which appears to have hobbled Gadhafi's air defenses and artillery and rescued the rebels from impending defeat.
The coalition includes the United States, Canada, several European countries and Qatar. Qatar was expected to start flying air patrols over Libya by this weekend, becoming the first member of the Arab League to participate directly in the military mission.
The Obama administration is eager to relinquish leadership of the hurriedly assembled coalition. A NATO-led operation would require the unanimous support of member nations, but two of them, France and Turkey, do not want the alliance to take over.
A compromise was emerging in which NATO would take a key role, but the operation would be guided by a political committee of foreign ministers from the West and the Arab world.
Obama defended U.S. involvement against criticism from several members of Congress, including some fellow Democrats.
"It is in America's national interests to participate because no one has a bigger stake in making sure that there are basic rules of the road that are observed, that there is some semblance of order and justice, particularly in a volatile region that's going through great changes," Obama said.
Obama spoke hours after the pilots of a U.S. F-15E Strike Eagle ejected safely when their plane experienced mechanical problems and crashed in a wheat field about 25 miles east of Benghazi in an area controlled by anti-Gadhafi forces.
One pilot was greeted with hugs from locals. A steady stream of locals walked through the wheat fields and gathered around the crash site, at times bringing their children, and photographing the wreckage. Many spoke of their gratitude.