Libya's rebels said a cease-fire plan proposed by the African Union and agreed to by Muammar Qaddafi won't be acceptable if it allows the ruler and his sons to retain power.
"We reject any initiative that provides for Qaddafi and his children to stay on," Abdallah Shamiya, a member of the rebel coalition from the Libyan branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, said in a phone interview in Benghazi. Mustafa Gheriani, media liaison for the provisional government, said: "We have to wait and see what the AU will be presenting".
The African Union said in an e-mailed statement today that Qaddafi agreed to end hostilities immediately and hold talks "with the view to adopting and implementing the political reforms necessary for the elimination of the causes of the current crisis." There was no mention of Qaddafi agreeing to step down. An AU delegation headed by South African President Jacob Zuma is due to meet rebel leaders in Benghazi today, after presenting the plan to Qaddafi yesterday.
After almost two months of fighting, troops loyal to Qaddafi and rebels in the North African country, holder of Africa's largest oil reserves, have fought to a stalemate, with battles moving back and forth in a small area along the coast, and neither side able to take or hold territory for long.
Crude has risen more than 30 per cent since the conflict began. Oil for May delivery rose to a 2 1/2-year high of $112.79 a barrel on April 8, and was trading at $112.52 at 8:30am in London.
Mediation efforts probably won't work because "people on the rebel side are totally committed to Qaddafi leaving power, and he won't," said Andrew Terrill, a Middle East specialist at the Strategic Studies Institute of the US Army War College. "They fear that any compromise with Qaddafi where he stays in power, he'll put them in jail or have them executed."
The Qaddafi family "have to relinquish power and leave the country," Shamiya said. "We think that the no-fly zone, the international isolation of Qaddafi and the economic sanctions imposed on his regime can achieve this."
The US and allies from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization began air strikes against Qaddafi's forces on March 19, a day after a United Nations resolution authorised the creation of a no-fly zone over Libya to protect civilians.
After initial advances under Nato air cover, the rebels were again pushed back by Qaddafi's forces, leading some insurgent leaders to criticise the US-led military campaign.
The opposition forces yesterday regained control of the strategic coastal town of Ajdabiya, with help from NATO strikes, said Khaled El Shayeh, a coordinator between the rebel military at the frontline and their political leadership in Benghazi. "Nato did a great effort yesterday," he said in a phone interview. "The whole of Ajdabiya is under our control."
Airstrikes blew up 11 tanks belonging to forces loyal to Qaddafi as they approached Ajdabiya yesterday, and 14 more were hit earlier on the outskirts of Misrata. NATO also said strikes left craters in the road used by Qaddafi to resupply troops shelling Ajdabiya.
The Libyan government said yesterday it shot down two attack helicopters used by rebel forces over Brega, AP reported, citing Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Amin.
"It looks like a stalemate," with the rebels unable to conduct any sustained military operation on their own, Terrill said. "You wonder if we will have a de facto partition, at least for a while."
Zuma yesterday called on NATO end its bombardment to "give the cease-fire a chance," the Associated Press reported. The AU plan also calls for cooperation in delivering humanitarian aid and protecting foreign nationals in Libya.
In other developments in the Middle East, nine Syrian soldiers were killed yesterday when gunmen ambushed their vehicles in the coastal oil hub of Banias, where tanks were deployed to contain protests spreading across the country, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported. President Bashar al Assad ordered the release of 191 people detained after protests in Damascus, Al Watan newspaper reported.
Foreign ministers of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council meeting yesterday in the Saudi capital of Riyadh urged Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down and called for a unity government led by the opposition.