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Rebels claim they're closing in on Gadhafi

Libyan rebels say they are closing in on Moammar Gadhafi and issued an ultimatum Tuesday to regime loyalists in the dictator's hometown of Sirte, his main remaining bastion, to surrender this weekend or face an attack.

"We have a good idea where he is," a top rebel leader said.

The rebels, tightening their grip on Libya after a military blitz, also demanded that Algeria return Gadhafi's wife and three of his children who fled there Monday. Granting asylum to his family, including daughter Aisha who gave birth in Algeria on Tuesday, was an "enemy act," said Ahmed al-Darrad, the rebels' interior minister.

Rebel leaders insisted they are slowly restoring order in the war-scarred capital of Tripoli after a week of fighting, including deploying police and collecting garbage. Reporters touring Tripoli still saw chaotic scenes, including desperate motorists stealing gasoline.

Rebel fighters were converging on the heavily militarized town of Sirte, 250 miles east of Tripoli.

The rebels gave pro-Gadhafi forces there a deadline of Saturday to complete negotiations and surrender. After that, the rebels will "act decisively and militarily," said Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, the head of the rebels' National Transitional Council.

In an overnight phone call to AP headquarters in New York, Gadhafi's chief spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim said the rebels' ultimatum would be rejected.

"No dignified honorable nation would accept an ultimatum from armed gangs," he said. Ibrahim reiterated Gadhafi's offer to send his son al-Saadi to negotiate with rebels and form a transitional government.

He also claimed that a Tuesday afternoon missile attack on Sirte had killed 1,000 people and left scores more injured during public prayers marking Eid. He said 12 missiles were fired, possibly from airplanes seen circling overhead.

He said he thinks that NATO believes Gadhafi is in Sirte. "Maybe they have been advised by some of the leaders of the rebels to attack the city with such vigor and power in the hope that the leader is there praying with his people," he said.

There has been speculation that Gadhafi is seeking refuge in Sirte or one of the other remaining regime strongholds nearby.

Ibrahim would not disclose Gadhafi's whereabouts except to say that he is "in Libya of course" and not planning to leave the country.

On Monday, NATO hit about three dozen Gadhafi military targets in the Sirte area. NATO insists it remains within the bounds of its original mission of protecting Libyan civilians, but it appears to be paving the way for advancing rebel forces with its targeted airstrikes.

Diplomatic tensions rose between the rebels and Algeria after the Algerian government agreed to grant refuge to Gadhafi's wife, Safiya, daughter Aisha and sons Hannibal and Mohammed. Aisha, a lawyer in her mid-30s, gave birth to her fourth child -- a girl -- as the family escaped to Algeria. Algerian news reports said Aisha's pregnancy was one reason for Algeria's decision to accept the fleeing family.

The rebel government criticized Algeria's decision and demanded that Gadhafi's relatives be handed over for trial in Libya.

Since the rebel takeover of Tripoli more than a week ago, evidence has been mounting that Gadhafi may have lied about the death of his adopted baby daughter Hana in a 1986 U.S. airstrike.

The strike hit Gadhafi's home in his Tripoli compound, Bab al-Aziziya, in retaliation for the Libyan-sponsored bombing of a Berlin nightclub earlier that year that killed two U.S. servicemen. At the time, Gadhafi showed American journalists a picture of a dead baby and said it was his adopted daughter Hana -- the first public mention that she even existed.

Adel Shaltut, a Libyan diplomat at the U.N. in Geneva, said it was common knowledge that Hana Gadhafi wasn't killed. "All Libyans knew from the very beginning that it's a lie," he told AP, saying Hana was married and had children.

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