Rebels set to attack Gadhafi lair
Updated: 2011-09-05 07:54
By Hadeel Al-Shalchi (China Daily)
The wreck of a plane, destroyed by a NATO strike, litters Bir Durfan military base where a rebel fighter awaits orders on Sunday for a possible attack on the Gadhafi stronghold of Bani Walid, some 60 km away. Carl de Souza / Agence France-Presse
Tribal leaders expected to surrender
TARHOUNA, Libya - Libyan rebels are poised to attack one of Muammar Gadhafi's remaining strongholds, but their military spokesman said on Sunday that he expected the town's tribal leaders to surrender rather than see their divided followers fight one another.
Rebels control most of Libya and are moving forward with setting up a new government, but they might hold off on declaring victory until Gadhafi is caught and his remaining strongholds are defeated. Gadhafi and his staunchest allies have been on the run since the fall of the capital late last month. Loyalists have entrenched themselves in several towns, including besieged Bani Walid, some 140 kilometers southeast of Tripoli.
Col Ahmed Bani, the rebel's military spokesman based in Benghazi, said members of the tribe that dominates Bani Walid and is the largest in Libya, the Warfala, are divided over whether to join the rebels. He said he expected the Warfala to surrender to avoid fighting among one another.
"They will give up at the end because they are cousins and they don't want to spill each other's blood," he said.
Bani added that people in Bani Walid have told the rebels that one of Gadhafi's sons, Saif al-Islam, had fled to Bani Walid soon after Tripoli fell, but left recently for fear townspeople would hand him over to the rebels.
Saif once had been expected to succeed his father. Last week, a man claiming to be Saif made an appeal from hiding that was carried by a Syrian-based TV station, urging his father's supporters to keep up the fight even if it means "we are going to die on our land".
Rebel officials have given conflicting statements on where they believe the elder Gadhafi is hiding. Bani Walid, Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte and the loyalist town of Sabha, deep in the desert, have been mentioned.
Anti-Gadhafi forces have also closed in on the coastal city of Sirte, but appear ready to allow more time for negotiations there.
"With God's grace, we are in a position of strength. We can enter any city ... but because of our care and desire to prevent bloodshed and avoid more destruction to national institutions we have given a period of one week," NTC chairman Mustafa Abdel Aziz said in the eastern city of Benghazi on Saturday.
"This is an opportunity for these cities to announce their peaceful joining of the revolution," he said.
NATO reported bombing a military barracks, a police camp and several other targets near Sirte overnight, as well as targets near Hun, a possible staging ground in the desert halfway between Sirte and Sabha. It also reported bombing an ammunition storage facility near Bani Walid.
Rebels, meanwhile, circled Bani Walid, saying they are ready to take it by force if necessary. Thousands of rebel fighters have converged on Bani Walid in recent days, with the closest forces 15 km from the town center.
Rebels from Misrata, a western port that played a central role in the war, reported late Saturday that they faced no resistance when they took over two military camps on the outskirts of Bani Walid.
"Negotiations are over, and we are waiting for orders" to attack, said Mohammed al-Fassi, a rebel commander at a staging area about 70 km from Bani Walid. "We wanted to do this without bloodshed."
Reuters contributed to this story.
(China Daily 09/05/2011 page1)