Qaddafi regime rejects Libyan rebels' ultimatum to surrender
NATO is still hoping for a negotiated settlement with Libyan rebels to avoid more fighting, particularly in Qaddafi's hometown of Sirte. The deadline expires Saturday.
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The Washington Post reports that the rebels see Sirte, about 275 miles east of Tripoli, as the most important loyalist holdout. Many loyalist fighters who were routed in earlier battles have taken refuge in Sirte and the southern town of Sabha.Skip to next paragraph
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"If we want to unify the whole country and if we want to declare that the war is over, we have to free Sirte," Mustafa Sagazly, deputy interior minister of the opposition’s Transitional National Council, said Monday. "Otherwise, we’ll be in a continuous state of war."
The remaining loyalist fighters have put up a fierce fight to protect Sirte, firing Grad rockets and Scud missiles on the advancing rebel troops.
NATO has continued its airstrikes, focusing on the roads leading to Sirte and loyalist strongholds along the way, the Associated Press reports. On Monday, it hit roughly three dozen Qaddafi military targets in the vicinity of the town.
But even if the rebels take Sirte, there are swaths of the country that remain out of rebel control and dotted with small loyalist strongholds. It was through one of those no-man's-land areas that members of the Qaddafi family escaped to Algeria from Bani Walid (see map) earlier this week, the Guardian reports.
The escape was made in a convoy of six armoured Mercedes limousines, once part of an extensive government fleet, which departed from the town of Bani Walid, the stronghold of Libya's biggest tribe, the Warfallah, where significant remnants of the regime are holding out.
But the fact that a conspicuous convoy of six armoured limousines could drive unmolested down the length of the country, from Bani Walid to the pro-Gaddafi bastion at Sebha, on the edge of the Sahara desert, and then west to the Algerian border, indicates that there is a wide swath of the central Libyan hinterland outside the NTC's grasp.
Suspicions are growing that Muammar Qaddafi is hiding in the vicinity of Bani Walid, where loyalist control is still solid enough for pro-Qaddafi broadcasts to be heard on local radio, according to the Guardian.
Some rebels and Western intelligence and special forces, mostly British, have been diverted to the Bani Walid area to continue the hunt for Qaddafi there. The Warfallah tribe's rumored loyalty to the Qaddafi regime is questionable – it made no attempt to defend Tripoli, despite vows from the regime that it had the tribe's support. Bani Walid itself was the locus of an uprising in the 1990s, after the regime accused military officers from the area of spying for the US and arrested 55 of them, later executing some of them.
"That history suggests that Bani Walid may not prove an enduring haven for the ousted leader and his sons," the Guardian notes.