Libya's interim leaders have failed to agree on a new cabinet even as battles raged with pro-Muammar Gaddafi forces.

The cabinet -- or executive committee -- was dissolved last month after procedural errors in the handling of the unexplained shooting dead of the newly ruling National Transitional Council's (NTC) military chief.
   
A new executive committee, to include officials responsible for defence and interior affairs, was supposed to be appointed by Mahmoud Jibril, the interim prime minister, on Sunday. But the talks broke down when his proposals did not receive full backing from all current members.

"We had an advisory meeting with the NTC in order to form a new cabinet. We have agreed on a number of portfolios. We still have more portfolios to be discussed," Jibril told reporters at a news conference on Sunday.

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NTC officials, including the head of the committee for political affairs, Fathi Baja, told the Reuters news agency that Jibril proposed a "transitional government" which would rule until at least the official liberation of the country.

It is not clear what liberation entails but it is likely to be conditional upon the capture of Gaddafi and the defeat of his loyalists who still hold three key towns in the country.

"The meeting was to form a transitional government. (The NTC) reduced the number of portfolios from 36 in the original proposal to around 24 but no names are confirmed," NTC spokesman, Jalal el-Gallal, told Reuters.

A list of the approved ministries was not available, though sources familiar with the negotiations said that the position of Jibril himself was a sticking point during the talks.

Jibril, a former Gaddafi regime official, stands accused by some of his colleagues of failing to consult enough with groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, an NTC official said.

However, Jibril is expected to retain his post as interim prime minister, while Ali Tarhuni was touted to be named vice president in charge of economic affairs.

The defence portfolio was expected to go to Osama al-Juwili and oil to Abdel Rahman bin Yezza.

"What we know for sure is that it will be 36 people representing different parts of Libya," Al Jazeera's Hashem Ahelbarra said earlier from Tripoli.

Libyan pilots return home after defecting to Malta

"They would like to ensure a representation that takes into account all different ethnic groups and all different cities.

"We know that they have offered five to six ministries to the Islamists. And there are attempts to combine the prime minister post with the minister of foreign affairs.

"They do understand that the stakes ahead and the challenges facing this post-Gaddafi Libya are going to be incredibly high, and for this they want people who have no affiliations with the Gaddafi time."

There was also disagreement about whether it is necessary to form a transitional government before the declaration of liberation.

The NTC has drawn up a roadmap, setting out plans for a new constitution and elections over a 20-month period, which should start once that declaration is made.

In other developments on Sunday, two Libyan fighter jet pilots who had defected to Malta in February returned home to a hero's welcome.

The men told reporters they were ordered to bomb protesters in Beghazi, but diverted their planes at the last minute.

'Mercenaries captured'

On the battle front, NTC fighters were pushing closer to Sirte, one of the final stronghold of Gaddafi's loyalist troops. There has been no progress in the other battle to take Bani Walid.

 

The NTC forces said they had suffered many casualties in Sunday's fighting, with at least five dead, and 14 injured.

The injured were being treated in Harawa field hospital, close to Amrah, with the more seriously wounded being transferred by ambulance to the hospital in Ras Lanouf in eastern Libya.

"We have won several battles against the NATO collaborators and managed to push them out of Bani Walid and Sirte", Mussa Ibrahim, Gaddafi's spokesman told Syria-based Arrai television channel by telephone.

Ibrahim said the Gaddafi forces have captured a group of 17 "mercenaries" in Bani Walid.

"They are technical experts and they include consultative officers. Most of them are French, one of them is from an Asian country that has not been identified, two English people and one Qatari," he said.

He said they would be shown on television at a later time, but did not give more details.

It was not immediately possible to verify Ibrahim's  claims. The French foreign ministry said it had no information regarding the report.

NATO, French and British officials had on Saturday denied a report by Arrai TV that some NATO troops had been captured by Gaddafi loyalists.

Western special forces are known to have been in Libya and to have liaised with anti-Gaddafi officials during the conflict. Private security firms have also been helping anti-Gaddafi forces, according to Western media reports.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies