As Qaddafi loyalists strike back, rumors circulate that he could step down

Troops loyal to Muammar Qaddafi launched airstrikes in Ras Lanuf. Opposition officials report that they've been approached about negotiating an end to Libya's conflict.

Asmaa Waguih/Reuters
An anti-Qaddafi rebel carrying a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) stands nearby after an airstrike in the eastern city of Ras Lanuf on March 8. Libyan warplanes launched at least four air strikes on the rebel-held town in the east on Tuesday as the two sides in the insurrection against Muammar Qaddafi faced off across a new front line close to major oil export terminals.

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Loyalists to Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi launched airstrikes Tuesday against the opposition-held oil port of Ras Lanuf as they continued to attack cities to the east and west of Colonel Qaddafi's stronghold of Tripoli.

Meanwhile, conflicting reports have emerged of an attempt by Qaddafi to negotiate an end to the weeks-long conflict.

A reporter who witnessed the attack on Ras Lanuf told the Associated Press that the airstrikes did not seem to hit any rebel fighters. A witness in Zawiyah, the closest city to Tripoli under rebel control, told the news agency that Qaddafi's forces were rolling through the city in tanks and that his troops were firing at random on houses.

On Monday, Qaddafi's forces used tanks to retake Bin Jawad, an oil town about 40 miles from Ras Lanuf, from the opposition fighters, Reuters reported. Al Jazeera reported fierce fighting and at least 18 deaths in the eastern city of Misurata, where the opposition claimed victory on Sunday.

The continued offensive by Qaddafi loyalists comes as conflicting reports emerge that the longstanding leader is attempting to negotiate with the opposition, offering to cede authority in exchange for safety for his family and immunity from prosecution.

Al Jazeera and two other Arab newspapers based outside of Libya reported that Qaddafi was trying to negotiate his resignation. But Reuters reports that there has been no official confirmation of the rumors.

Al Jazeera said Gaddafi had proposed to Libyan rebels to hold a meeting of parliament to pave the way for him to step down with certain guarantees.

It said Gaddafi made the proposal to the interim council, which speaks for mostly eastern areas controlled by his opponents. It quoted sources in the council as saying Gaddafi wanted guarantees of personal safety for him and his family and a pledge that they not be put on trial.

Al Jazeera said sources from the council told its correspondent in Benghazi that the offer was rejected because it would have amounted to an "honorable" exit for Gaddafi and would offend his victims. …

A source close to the council told Reuters he had heard that "one formula being proposed by the other side would see Gaddafi hand power to the head of parliament and leave the country with a certain guaranteed sum of money."

Amal Bugaigis of the opposition group called the February 17 Coalition told CNN that Qaddafi is indeed trying to strike a deal with rebel leaders and that they have given him their demands, such as immediately conceding that he no longer is the ruler of Libya.

Meanwhile, an opposition spokesman told the BBC that they turned down the offer of negotiations, which they see as an attempt to divide the opposition, and Reuters reports that the government is denying that Qaddafi has made any attempt at negotiation.

The BBC's Wyre Davies, in Tripoli, says Col Gaddafi's side believe they are making significant military gains, consolidating their hold on western Libya.

On Monday, pro-Gaddafi forces retook the town of Bin Jawad, on the road to Ras Lanuf, which the rebels captured on Friday.

Using air strikes, helicopter gunships and heavy armaments, they pushed back a rebel advance along the north coast.

Under these circumstances, it is difficult to see how the Gaddafi regime would be in any mood to compromise or talk about succession, our correspondent says.

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