Bolstered by Western airstrikes, the rebels had been moving rapidly toward Muammar Qaddafi's hometown of Sirte after retaking the key eastern city of Ajdabiya over the weekend, recapturing the oil towns of Brega and Ras Lanuf along the way.
But that advance stopped on Monday some 20 miles east of Sirte, where rebel forces – which have proven themselves to be disorganized and sometimes dangerously bold – ran into the defenses of the strategically important city. In a panicked retreat under fire on Tuesday, the rebels reportedly moved back to the hamlet of Bin Jawwad, just west of Ras Lanuf.
Qaddafi decries 'barbaric, unjust offensive'
They were expected to spell out plans for a cease-fire, safe path to exile for Qaddafi – perhaps in an African country – and a proposal to discuss the future of Libya with the opposition and tribal heads.
But Qaddafi has shown no sign of being willing to step down or step away, after nearly 42 years at the helm in Libya.
“Stop your barbaric, unjust offensive on Libya,” Qaddafi wrote in an open letter published on the state-run news agency Jana.
“Leave Libya for the Libyans. You are committing genocide against a peaceful people and a developing nation,” Qaddafi wrote. “It seems that you in Europe and America don’t realize the hellish, barbaric [military] offensive which compares … to Hitler’s campaigns.”
Speaking late Monday, Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim added official anger to the diplomatic moves. “We call upon Obama and the Western leaders to be peacemakers and not warmongers, and not to push the Libyans towards a civil war and more death and destruction,” he said.
Obama lays out his vision
President Barack Obama said on Monday night that the US and its allies had “stopped Qaddafi’s deadly advance.”
But while Mr. Obama said the US was not pursuing “military” regime change – that was the task of the Libyan people, he said, and their weeks-old rebellion – the president noted the US would “continue to pursue the broader goal of a Libya that belongs not to a dictator, but to its people.”
Translating that vision into an anti-Qaddafi reality on the ground in Libya resulted in a surge of excited anticipation over the weekend, when rebel forces backed by allied airstrikes finally broke a stalemate at Ajdabiya.
Pro-Qaddafi forces retreated – claiming they did so in a “tactical pullback” to protect the civilians of Ajdabiya from rebel bombardment – which opened the way for the rebel sweep to push further west than they ever have.
Rebel government issues 8-point plan
Today, even as the rebels found themselves stalled at the front, the self-declared rebel government based in the eastern city of Benghazi – the Interim National Council, which has been recognized only by France and Qatar – issued an 8-point plan that it called a “vision of a democratic Libya.”
Listed there is a new constitution with a balance of power, free parties and elections, and freedom of expression. Recovered will be “social freedoms that were denied…during the rule of dictatorship.” The rebels also call for a state that “draws strength from our strong religious beliefs in peace, truth, justice and equality.”