| Abdel Salam Jalloud's, right, defection is seen as another major blow to Gaddafi [Reuters]
Tunisia's official TAP news agency has said that a former top aide of embattled Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has left the island of Djerba for Italy after apparently defecting.
Abdessalam Jalloud's flight took off from the Djerba airport early on Saturday, the report said, without providing any details.
Rebel spokesman Mahmoud Shammam said that Jalloud had fled to a rebel-held area in the western mountains and was on his way to Europe.
Jalloud did not issue any statements, but Shammam said he had confirmed the defection on the telephone.
Jalloud was a member of the group that staged the 1969 coup that brought Gaddafi to power, and was seen as his second-in-command before falling out of favour in the 1990s.
Jalloud was prime minister from 1972 to 1977.
Following his dispute with Gaddafi, he had retired from politics altogether and lived under virtual house arrest. He reportedly was stripped of his passport .
Jalloud is from the influential Megarha clan and has remained a popular figure in Libya.
In October 2010, media controlled by Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam had mentioned Jalloud's name as a possible prime minister to lead the fight against corruption.
The TAP report added that another senior Libyan official, Omrane Boukraa, an oil minister, has not returned to Libya following a mission to Italy. He was expected to return home on Thursday.