Libyan rebels fought to gain control of a major supply road to Tripoli on Saturday, seizing a border crossing with Tunisia and strengthening their hold on the oil-rich country as they hunt for Moammar Gadhafi.
Controlling the road from the Tunisian border to the capital would help ease growing shortages of fuel and food, particularly in the battle-scarred city.
Mahmoud Shammam, information minister in the rebels' transitional council, said the rebels already control most of the road, but that regime fighters are shelling it in the area of the city of Zwara, midway between Tripoli and the Tunisian border. Rebels had captured the border crossing known as Ras Ajdir, the gateway to the road to Tripoli.
"We hope to be able to control the road today," he told reporters.
Algeria Denies Reports Of Convoy
Also Saturday, Algeria denied a report that a small convoy had entered the country from Libya, Reuters reported.
The news agency cited reports from Egypt's state-run media that six Mercedes vehicles had crossed its border Friday morning, perhaps containing top Libyan officials, Gadhafi's sons or the former leader himself. But Algerian officials told Reuters the reports were not true.
The Egyptian media reported that rebels in the area were unable to pursue the cars, believed to have been armored, because they didn't have ammunition or the necessary equipment. The report could not be independently confirmed by The Associated Press.
American Is Freed From Prison
In Tripoli, American Matthew Van Dyke, a freelance writer and filmmaker captured by government soldiers, says he thought he was going to die when a crowd wrestled open his jail cell after six months of solitary confinement.
Instead of an angry gang fired by government propaganda, however, it was rebels and prisoners breaking him out of Tripoli's notorious Abu Salim prison, he told The Associated Press on Saturday.
Van Dyke was captured in the eastern oil town of Brega and then held incommunicado for six months in Tripoli — a third of it in a small cell.
The 32-year-old says he plans to stay in Libya until the whole country is free.
Oil Refinery Repairs Under Way; Prices High
In the western city of Zawiya, 30 miles west of Tripoli, a manager for the key oil refinery there said officials hoped to have it operational soon.
Restarting the rebel-held refinery, which was shut down after Libya's rebellion flared, should help ease skyrocketing fuel prices.
Mohammed Aziz, a longtime operations manager, said it should be working by Monday.
In Tripoli, the cost of a 20-liter (about five gallons) can of gas has jumped to about 120 dinars ($100) — 28 times the price before fighting began.
Much of the capital's water service has been out all week. Electricity is sporadic. Most shops, including groceries, are shut. And frustrations are growing among the residents of Tripoli.
Negotiating With Loyalist Holdouts
In Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte, one of the regime's remaining bastions, rebels are trying to negotiate a surrender with loyalists who still control the town, Shammam said. "We don't want more bloodshed, and we had a very good response," he said, adding that he hoped the standoff would be resolved very soon.
However, Fadl-Allah Haron, a rebel commander from the eastern city of Benghazi, said the talks had failed. Opposition forces were positioned to the east of Sirte in Bin Jawwad waiting for NATO to carry out more airstrikes to destroy Scud missile launching sites and suspected arms depots, he said.
"The anti-Gadhafi tribes have told us that it is no use. Tribes loyal to Gadhafi and Gadhafi forces have refused to surrender," he said. "What we fear the most is chemical weapons and the long-range missiles."
Shammam insisted the hunt for Gadhafi was continuing, but the opposition would not delay efforts to set up a new administration.
"Gadhafi for us is finished," he said. "He has escaped, he is running from place to place. Of course, we want to get Gadhafi. We are following him. We are going to find him, but we are not going to wait for everything to find Gadhafi and his son."
Looking toward reconciliation efforts, Shammam also reiterated Saturday that those who worked in the Gadhafi regime but were not involved in killing or oppressing regime critics would be able to work in the new administration.
Former Official's Son Seeks Help
In Tripoli, the son of Libya's once-powerful intelligence chief came into the city's Al-Afia hospital to ask for treatment for 20 of his loyalist fighters, Dr. Fawzi Addala said.
Addala said he vaguely recognized the commander, but had to ask why he looked so familiar.
"He told me: 'I am a dead man. I'm Abdullah Senoussi's son,"' Addala told The Associated Press.
Mohammed Senoussi's brigade had been shelling Tripoli's airport earlier this week, but had to flee the rebel advance. The doctor said the younger Senoussi and his fighters were clearly exhausted, and some asked for medication to keep them awake.
"He told me: 'I am defending my father, not the regime, because I know what the regime is all about,"' the doctor said.
"Mohammed was very polite, asked for a cigarette and water and looked defeated," said Addala.
Senoussi's father is Abdullah al-Senoussi, a top aide to Gadhafi and intelligence chief.
From The Associated Press and NPR reports.