Algeria yesterday defended its decision to give shelter to deposed Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s wife and three children, as angry Libyan rebels who toppled the longtime strongman demanded they be returned for trial.
On the battlefield, the rebels, who are moving in for the kill against pockets of resistance in Tripoli and other Qaddafi strongholds, including his hometown Sirte, offered a respite until Saturday to mark the Muslim Eid al-Fitr feast.
If pro-Qaddafi forces did not surrender by then, they would face a military onslaught, National Transitional Council (NTC) chief Mustafa Abdel Jalil told reporters in rebel stronghold Benghazi.
Algerian foreign ministry spokesman Amar Belani said the decision to allow Qaddafi’s wife Safiya, daughter Aisha and sons Mohammed and Hannibal to cross into the country on Monday was based solely on humanitarian concerns.
“These people have been admitted to Algeria for strictly humanitarian reasons,” Belani said, adding that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the UN Security Council and the NTC’s No. 2 leader Mahmud Jibril, had been informed.
Just hours after crossing over, daughter Aisha gave birth to a girl, Algerian authorities said yesterday.
The NTC, already at odds with Algiers for its refusal to recognize it as the legitimate authority in Libya, had reacted angrily when news broke on Monday that some of their quarry had fled.
“We would like those persons to come back,” NTC spokesman Mahmud Shammam said in Tripoli, adding that Algeria had given the family members “a pass” to enter a third country.
“Saving Qaddafi’s family is not an act we welcome and understand,” Shammam told a press conference in Tripoli.
“We can assure our neighbors that we want better relations with them ... but we are determined to arrest and try the Qaddafi family and Qaddafi himself,” Shammam said, adding the rebels guaranteed a “fair trial.”
So far Algeria has not recognized the NTC and has adopted a stance of strict neutrality on the Libyan conflict, leading some among the rebels to accuse it of supporting the Qaddafi regime.
There has been no word on the whereabouts of Qaddafi himself, who went into hiding when rebel forces overran his Tripoli headquarters a week ago.
Italian news agency ANSA, citing “authoritative Libyan diplomatic sources,” said he and his sons, Saadi and Seif al-Islam, were holed-up in the town of Bani Walid, south of the capital, Tripoli.
Rebel Libyan justice minister Mohammed al-Allagy said that Qaddafi’s youngest son, Khamis, whose death has been announced several times since Libya’s conflict erupted but never confirmed, may have been killed south of Tripoli and buried on Monday.
Khamis, 28, commanded a brigade seen as the most effective and loyal force of the Libyan leader.
The rebels, meanwhile, yesterday issued a Saturday deadline for cities still held by forces loyal to Qaddafi to throw in the towel or face a military onslaught.
Jalil told a Benghazi press conference that talks were under way with officials in towns, including Sirte, to arrange their peaceful surrender.
“This window of opportunity will be closed at the end of Eid al-Fitr [Friday in Libya],” Jalil said, referring to the three-day feast marking the end of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan. “From Saturday, if no peaceful solution is in sight on the ground, we will resort to military force.”