Libyan fighters have been massing outside of Muammar Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte, preparing for an assault against Gaddafi loyalists if negotiations with tribal elders fail to peacefully transfer control of the town over to the new rebel government.
Mustafa Abdel Jalil, chairman of the rebels’ National Transitional Council, said on Tuesday that forces loyal to Gaddafi, including those in the town of Sirte, have until Saturday to surrender or face a military assault.
“By Saturday, if there are no peaceful indications for implementing this we will decided this manner militarily,” he said. “We do not wish to do so but we cannot wait longer.”
Rebel fighters were organising units advance towards Sirte from both Ras Lanuf and Bin Jawad in the east and from Tripoli and Misrata to the west.
“We will move further, but we will not enter Sirte now because it is not secured so far – there are ongoing
negotiations between tribe elders in Sirte and rebel leaders and we are receiving orders from our field
commanders and we are waiting for their commands,” rebel fighter Taleb al-Karaty told the Reuters news agency.
Senior rebel commanders said they had 4,000 fighters on the western front with Sirte and that they estimated that they would come up against about 1,000 pro-Gaddafi soldiers if negotiations for the town’s surrender fail.
Gaddafi loyalist captured at checkpoint outside Sirte
In Sirte, forces loyal to Gaddafi urged people to fight or be killed, complicating efforts to arrange a peaceful surrender of the city, according to NTC officials.
“We have difficulty with the regime people from Tripoli,” said Hassan Droy, the NTC representative for Sirte, who is based in the eastern city of Benghazi.
“They’re trying to tell the people that the battle is no longer for Gaddafi but to protect themselves,” he told Reuters.
Three days ago a message from Gaddafi was broadcast in Sirte, urging people to fight to save themselves, he said.
While the deposed leader’s whereabouts are still unknown, the city is a strategic and symbolic prize for Libya’s rebel government as it tightens its grip on the vast North African country.
Gaddafi family members flee
Reports have surfaced that members of Gaddafi’s family had fled the country and gone to Algeria.
Authorities there confirmed on Tuesday that Gaddafi’s second wife Safia, his daughter Aisha, and his sons Muhammad and Hannibal were in Algeria and had been granted permission to enter based on “humanitarian grounds”.
According to AFP news agency, Aisha gave birth to a girl while in Algeria.
Mahmoud Shammam, information minister in Libya’s rebel government, told the Associated Press news agency that he considered Algeria’s harbouring of Hannibal an act of aggression.
“I cannot confirm it, but I can comment that, especially for Hannibal, if he fled to Algiers and the Algerian authorities allowed him to do that, we’ll consider this as an agressive act against the Libyan people’s wish,” he said.
Gaddafi’s son Khamis, whose death has been prematurely announced several times during the months-long conflict, was killed south of Tripoli and buried on Monday, a rebel spokesman said.
“One of the rebel leaders confirmed to me that Khamis was killed somewhere near Tarhuna, about 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of Tripoli,” the opposition justice and human rights minister Mohammed al-Allagy told AFP.
Pockets of dissent
Elsewhere in Libya, there were pockets of dissent accusing the NTC of not being transparent enough in nominating members for a new administration.
Al Jazeera’s Andrew Simmons reports from Misrata on dissent against the NTC’s administrative appointments
Al Jazeera’s Andrew Simmons, reporting from a protest in Misrata, said: “They [the protesters] say the old guard of the Gaddafi regime are far too prominent in the list of people issued so far.
“They are also insisting there should be new faces for a new Libya.
“A lot of this is due to communications and the way the NTC has been concentrating so much on diplomacy and the economy, and maybe not looking inwards enough.”
A document leaked on Monday appeared to outline United Nations plans to help Libya hold elections within nine months. It also pushed for the creation of an interim government before that.
Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the head of the NTC, met NATO leaders in Qatar on Monday and called on the alliance to keep up its military pressure on forces loyal to Gaddafi.
“Gaddafi’s defiance of the coalition forces still poses a danger, not only for Libya, but for the world. That’s why we are calling for the coalition to continue its support,” Jalil said.