Rebel operation in Tripoli to isolate Kadhafi: spokesman

DVBP149 4 W 0255 LBY /AFP-VH98 Libya-conflict-Tripoli lead Rebel operation in Tripoli to isolate Kadhafi: spokesman BENGHAZI, Libya, Aug 21, 2011 (AFP) - An operation called "Mermaid" is underway Sunday in the Libyan capital to isolate Moamer Kadhafi and force his surrender or departure, a rebel spokesman told AFP. Spokesman Ahmed Jibril said "operation mermaid" is a joint effort between the Benghazi-based rebel National Transitional Council, insurgents fighting in and around Tripoli and NATO forces. "The operation is also in coordination with NATO," he said, adding would last several days "until we surround Kadhafi" to force him "either to surrender or to escape." Rebels, he said, would "welcome and accept" a decision from Kadhafi to leave the north African nation he has ruled for almost 42 years. Intermittent gunfire crackled in Tripoli on Sunday morning after four strong blasts were heard shortly after 4:00 am (0200 GMT) as NATO warplanes flew overhead, an AFP journalist said. The targets were not immediately identifiable but witnesses reported clashes in several districts between insurgents and Kadhafi supporters, namely in the eastern neighbourhoods of Soug Jomaa, Arada and Tajura. Government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim admitted there were "small clashes" that lasted 30 minutes but stressed the pro-regime volunteers and Kadhafi forces repelled insurgents who had "infiltrated" the capital. "The situation is under control," Ibrahim said on state television. hba/dsg/hkb AFP 211113 GMT AUG 11