With no sign of a let-up in the fighting that has left hundreds dead, a stalemate over plans to send a peacekeeping force to the shattered west African country seemed set to continue on Monday.

A decision on the deployment of a 3,000-strong peacekeeping force by the regional Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), was expected to be announced on Monday in Ghana.

However, the United States was continuing to insist that it would only send in its own forces - to be deployed in ships off the coast - to help if a ceasefire was in place and President Charles Taylor had first relinquished power.

"They are going in when there is a ceasefire, when Charles Taylor ... has left," US deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfovitz told a US television station.

Wolfowitz dismissed suggestions that by not moving troops quickly into Liberia, the United States was responsible for the continuing bloodshed.

The embattled government leader, President Charles Taylor, was however continuing to insist that the peacekeepers would have to come in before he would agree to step down and leave the country.

In an exclusive Sunday interview with Al Jazeera’s correspondent in the Liberian capital Monrovia, Charles Taylor accused the US of having indirectly aided the rebels now besieging the battle-scarred city.

“The US financially supported Guinea, which in return has backed the rebels,” he said. Taylor also blamed the US for contributing to the collapse of Liberia’s economy.

It is thought that the devastating fighting that resumed around the capital nine days ago has killed at least 700 civilians, with up to 200,000 people living without shelter, and little food or clean water.

Rebels close in on Monrovia

Fighters of the main Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rebel group stepped up attacks on the Johnson and Old bridges leading into Monrovia on Sunday afternoon, having earlier taken the key Stockton Creek Bridge, which may allow them to open up an eastern assault on the capital.

General Benjamin Yeaten, who is coordinating government military operations, said that LURD had stepped up their bombardment of his position south of the two remaining key bridges, and launched two offensives during the morning, which were repulsed.

"We need a ceasefire to roll out all the rest of the sequence: international peacekeepers deployment, humanitarian actions." 

-US Ambassador to Liberia John Blaney

To the east of the capital, rebels from a second group, the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) were reportedly headed towards Liberia's second port, Buchanan.

In the Ghanaian capital Accra, meanwhile, ECOWAS was expected to make an announcement on the sending of peacekeepers, who would mainly comprise two Nigerian army battalions.

However the LURD rebels on Sunday turned down on Sunday a ceasefire plan proposed by the US ambassador to Liberia, John Blaney.

"We'll give up our positions to the peacekeepers only," LURD leader Sekou Damate Conneh told AFP.

Stalemate over ceasefire

Blaney had earlier said that Taylor had agreed to the plan, which would have meant rebels pulling back to the Po River some 12 kilometers (seven miles) north of Monrovia.

"We need a ceasefire to roll out all the rest of the sequence: international peacekeepers deployment, humanitarian actions," said Blaney.

Taylor, whose forces now control only around a fifth of the country, reaffirmed over the weekend he would he would quit in line with a west African-brokered peace plan, but repeated his demand that peacekeepers would have to arrive first.