LONDON // An aide of the Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi has had talks in London this week on the possibility of a negotiated settlement to the civil war there, it emerged yesterday.
The news broke as opposition leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil told a press conference in Benghazi that the rebels would agree to a ceasefire if Col Qaddafi's troops withdrew from cities.
"We agree on a ceasefire on the condition that our brothers in the western cities have freedom of expression and also that the forces that are besieging the cities withdraw," he said.
On the ground, though, there was no sign of a let-up in the fighting as rebels in eastern Libya mounted fresh attacks in a bid to recapture the oil town in Brega, while, in the west, pro-Qaddafi forces continued to pound Misurata with artillery and tank fire.
Nato officials also confirmed that they were investigating reports that seven young people, aged between 12 and 20, had been killed in an allied air attack on an ammunition lorry outside Brega.
From today, the Pentagon has said that US warplanes will no longer conduct air strikes on Libya, though they will be available if help is requested by the Nato commander.
This only leaves British, French and Canadian warplanes to carry out ground attacks.
And despite indications to the contrary from the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, on Tuesday, Robert Gates, the defence secretary, has now stated that America will not be providing the rebels with arms or training.
He told a congressional committee: "My view would be, if there is going to be that kind of assistance to the opposition, there are plenty of sources for it other than the US."
Meanwhile, in London, less than 48 hours after the defection of the foreign minister, Moussa Koussa, to Britain, government sources confirmed yesterday that Mohammed Ismail - an adviser to Col Qaddafi's second son Saif - had been in discussion over a possible exit strategy for members of the Tripoli regime.
Al Jazeera also reported that several senior figures in Col Qaddafi's inner circle, including the deputy foreign minister and the speaker of the General People's Congress, were preparing to jump ship amid growing signs of fracture in Tripoli.
Additionally, the former foreign minister Ali Abdul Salaam Treki, whom Col Qaddafi named recently as Libya's permanent representative to the United Nations, issued a statement from Egypt saying that he would not accept the post.
In all, about a dozen senior figures in the Libyan regime are understood to have held discussions with British officials about deserting the Libyan dictator.
Most intriguing, though, was Mr Ismail's trip to London earlier this week - a visit that government sources in Libya said was undertaken so that he could visit his children, who are being educated in Britain.
However, it has been confirmed in London that, during the visit, he held talks with British government officials and that he had been given a message to take back to the Qaddafi regime.
"Qaddafi's sons have become aware that they have a problem that they need to find a way out of," The Guardian reported yesterday.
But Prime Minister David Cameron's spokesman later insisted that Britain was not making deals with Libyan envoys.
He said that the only message being relayed to Tripoli was that "the next steps need to be an end to violence and that Qaddafi needs to go". The foreign office minister, Lord Howell, reinforced the message in the House of Lords yesterday.
While declining to comment on the talks with Mr Ismail, he said: "All I would say on all the headlines and defectors, who make the headlines in every newspaper this morning, is to repeat there will be accountability and there is no immunity."
Lord Howell also made it clear that allied air strikes would continue. "There is wide support for what we are doing in Libya - from the United Nations, the Arab League, the African Union and most of Europe," he said.
"The case for this action remains utterly compelling. Appalling violence against Libyan citizens continues to take place, exposing the regime's claims to have ordered ceasefires to be an utter sham."
Abdelilah al Khatib, the UN special envoy to Libya, arrived in Benghazi yesterday to meet officials of the rebels' provisional council.
Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, undertook at an international conference on Libya in London on Tuesday to send an envoy back to Libya in the hope of brokering a peace deal.
"He is coming to Benghazi to see the transitional national council about the situation and the needs of the people. We hope he will see for himself the effect on east Libya," Salah Hedin, a senior member of the council's foreign affairs committee, told Reuters.
A UAE aid convoy of 40 lorries each carrying between 28 to30 tonnes of food arrived at the border crossing between Libya and Egypt yesterday. The aid was delivered to Libyan charities at the Saloom crossing, the official UAE news agency WAM reported.