|The ICC is seeking the arrest of Saif al-Islam along with other Libyan officials for alleged war crimes [EPA]
A son of Muammar Gaddafi has announced that his father is willing to hold elections and step aside if he loses, an offer which could test the unity of the Western alliance trying to force the Libyan leader out.
Saif al-Islam's proposal, which follows a string of concessions offered by Gaddafi that Western powers have dismissed as ploys, came on Thursday amid mounting frustration in some NATO states at the progress of the military campaign.
"They (elections) could be held within three months. At the maximum by the end of the year, and the guarantee of transparency could be the presence of international observers," Saif al-Islam told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.
He said his father, who has ruled the country for more than four decades, would be ready to step aside if he lost the election but would not go into exile.
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"I have no doubt that the overwhelming majority of Libyans stand with my father and sees the rebels as fanatical Islamist fundamentalists, terrorists stirred up from abroad," the newspaper quoted Saif al-Islam as saying.
It was not clear what form the proposed vote would take. Libya has never held elections under Gaddafi and has no elected institutions.
The US dismissed the election proposal by Gaddafi's son. Victoria Nuland, a state department spokesperson, told reporters at her daily briefing on Thursday: "I think it's a little late for that," and repeated the US view that "it's time for him (Gaddafi) to go".
Saif al-Islam is among three top Libyan officials wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes committed by Gaddafi's regime in bid to quell an uprising against his rule.
He made the offer as Libyan officials ruled out Gaddafi's departure during talks with Mikhail Margelov, the envoy leading Russia's efforts to end the Libyan conflict.
It was not clear what was hit, and there was no word on casualties, as government officials did not immediately comment on the strike.
NATO warplanes have repeatedly targeted the area in and around the Bab al-Aziziya compound, Gaddafi's command centre.
The North Atlantic alliance launched its air campaign nearly three months ago under a UN resolution to protect civilians after Gaddafi's troops used force to put down the rebellion against his rule in February.
The Libyan leader has described the rebels as "rats" and says NATO's campaign is an act of colonial aggression aimed at stealing Libya's oil.
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Rebel forces are now fighting Gaddafi's troops on three fronts: in the east of the country around the oil town of Brega; on the edge of rebel-held Misurata, Libya's third-biggest city, and in the western mountains south-west of Tripoli.
Rebels in the western mountains said on Wednesday they had taken control of two villages from pro-Gaddafi forces, building on gains which in the past few days have seen them advance to within about 100km of Tripoli.
But rebel forces show no signs of being able to break through to the capital soon.
Amid the standoff, explosions continued to rock Tripoli with fresh NATO air strikes reported on Thursday morning.
"From the point of view of the Libyan leadership, there cannot be any talk of Gaddafi's departure today," Interfax news agency quoted Margelov as saying.