Libya rebels prepare for push on Tripoli: reports

Libya rebel leaders said this weekend that will try to recapture territory on the road to Tripoli, which could put them within striking distance of the capital.

Thaier al-Sudani/Reuters
Libyan rebel military spokesman Ahmed Bani discusses plans to advance on Tripoli on Saturday.

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Leaders of Libya’s rebel forces say they are ready to launch an offensive toward Tripoli, the capital city controlled by embattled leader Muammar Qaddafi, from an enclave southwest of the capital.

The announcement came after NATO intensified airstrikes in the west of the country and as the African Union (AU) put forward a plan for peace negotiations and urged its member states not to honor an International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant for Colonel Qaddafi.

Rebel spokesman Colonel Ahmed Omar Bani told reporters in Benghazi, the rebel capital in the east, late on Saturday that rebel fighters will advance from their stronghold in the Nafusa mountains within two days, reports the AFP international news service. They will try to recapture territory on the plains, on the road to Tripoli, which could put them within striking distance of the capital.

Last week, rebel forces retreated from Bir al Ghanam, just 50 miles from the capital, after being attacked by Libyan forces.

"[It] was obviously a strategic withdrawal because of the battlefield situation and the amount of bombardment that the revolutionary forces were receiving," said Colonel Bani, according to Reuters. "But we hope to counter that within the next 48 hours."

The four-and-a-half-month conflict in Libya has begun to look more and more like a stalemate as the two sides advance and retreat over the same territory. But the rebels have help: Last week, France airdropped weapons to the rebels in the west, and NATO said Saturday it has increased its airstrikes on Libyan government forces targets in the west. The coalition has hit more than 50 targets in the west past week, reports the Associated Press.

AU criticizes ICC arrest warrant

Meanwhile, during an AU summit, the group called on its member states not to enforce the ICC arrest warrant for Qaddafi, issued because of his forces' brutal crackdown on protests against his rule. The AP reports that the group warned the warrant “seriously complicates” efforts to find a political solution to the conflict in Libya, and that the court was discriminatory by focusing on African leaders and ignoring Western abuses.

The AU also issued a plan for dialogue to end the conflict between the government and the rebels, talks which would reportedly not include Qaddafi himself. AP reports that Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim welcomed the plan and said Qaddafi himself would not participate in the talks. He said he hoped a cease-fire could be reached “in the next few days, or weeks at most.’’

But a rebel leader said the opposition had decided to reject the plan, reports Bloomberg.

“It doesn’t include the departure of Qaddafi from power,” Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, vice president of the Libyan National Transition Council, said in a Saturday interview on Al Jazeera.

That statement appeared to come after a spokesman for the rebels who was at the AU summit in Equatorial Guinea welcomed the plan. “We understood that the spirit of the document is that Gaddafi will not have a role to play in the future of Libya,” Mansour Sayf al Nasr said, reports Reuters.

TIME reports that calls are growing, even from countries within the NATO alliance, for a political end to the conflict in Libya.

Calls for a cease-fire are now coming from key players in the alliance, including Italy (the only country from whose territory air sorties are being flown -- most of the combat missions are flown from the French aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle, which is be rotated out of the theater in September, with no obvious replacement) and Turkey -- on whom the alliance will depend to supply any ground forces needed to police a post-conflict situation. … Fighting on the ground is likely to intensify in the days and weeks ahead, however, if for no other reason than the awareness of the combatants that NATO's timetable may not extend beyond the summer.

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