Strong explosions rocked Tripoli early yesterday as Muammar Qaddafi’s shaky regime called for a immediate ceasefire in Libya and rebels claimed control of a key oil refinery not far from the capital.
A slew of explosions were heard at about 1am in the heart of the seaside capital where Qaddafi’s residential complex is located, as well as in several areas in the west of the city.
On Thursday, central Tripoli and the eastern suburb of Tajura were targeted by NATO warplanes, according to witnesses.
Rebels have been seeking to sever Tripoli’s supply lines from Tunisia to the west and to Qaddafi’s hometown of Sirte in the east in a move they hope will cut off the capital, prompt defections and spark an uprising inside Tripoli.
Opposition forces said on Thursday they had seized the refinery in Zawiyah, a key source of fuel supplies to the capital and the last major barrier before they advance on Tripoli.
Libyan Prime Minister Baghdadi Mahmudi hotly disputed the claim, saying the refinery was “without doubt” still in loyalists’ hands.
Mahmudi told journalists in Tripoli that “the time has arrived for an immediate ceasefire.”
“We are ready to begin a dialogue to put an end to the crisis immediately,” Mahmudi added, saying there had been “contact” in recent days to find a political solution in the near future.
A member of the rebels’ National Transitional Council (NTC), Wahid Bourchan, said that “discussions” and not negotiations took place this week between some embattled regime members and their rebel challengers in Tunisia.
Former French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin, meanwhile, told daily Le Parisien he had traveled to the Tunisian resort of Djerba for discussions with unnamed Libyan figures.
“I was indeed there, but I really can’t make any comment, as this might compromise the chances of these discussions being successful or useful,” he told the newspaper.
Mahmudi said no negotiations would touch on the fate of Qaddafi, while rebel leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil was quoted as renewing his side’s rejection of any talks that do not envisage the departure from power of the strongman and his sons.
Abdel Jalil was speaking in an interview published in pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, in which he said the rebel campaign to cut off Tripoli was proceeding apace and that he feared a “veritable bloodbath” in a battle for the capital.
“Qaddafi will not go quietly; he will go amid a catastrophe that will touch him and his family,” Jalil told the newspaper from his eastern bastion of Benghazi.
The Libyan leader, who has ruled the oil-rich North African nation for four decades, has consistently refused to step down and continues to rally his supporters to repel the enemy.
Abdel Jalil said he hoped to celebrate in Tripoli — a city of more than 1 million inhabitants — the feast of Eid al-Fitr, which will cap the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan at the end of this month.