Forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi yesterday tried to re-take a village south of the capital seized by rebels a week ago, delivering a set-back to rebel plans for a march on Tripoli.
The fighting in the village of al-Qawalish, about 100km from the capital, underlined the faltering pattern of the rebel advances that has led some of the rebels’ Western backers to push for a political solution to the conflict.
A Reuters team in the village heard small arms fire and shelling, and could hear explosions from shells landing inside al-Qawalish on its eastern edge. Several truckloads of rebel fighters sped west out of the village, away from the attacking government forces, with one shouting: “Go, go, it is not safe here.”
One rebel fighter said the fighting started after a rebel unit tried to advance east from al-Qawalish in the direction of the town of Garyan, which controls access to the main highway leading north into the capital Tripoli.
The conflict in Libya started out as a rebellion against Qaddafi’s 41-year-rule. It has now turned into the bloodiest of the “Arab Spring” uprisings convulsing the region and has also embroiled Western powers in a prolonged war they had hoped would swiftly force Qaddafi out of power.
The Libyan leader is refusing to quit and the rebels have been unable to make a decisive breakthrough toward his stronghold in the capital, despite support from Western warplanes.
France said on Tuesday a political way out of the conflict was now being looked at and that Qaddafi’s emissaries have been in contact with NATO members to say he is ready to leave power.
“A political solution is more than ever indispensable and it is beginning to take shape,” French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said in Paris.
However, it was not obvious how negotiations could persuade Qaddafi to change his mind and relinquish power, especially at a time when the Western alliance ranged against him is showing signs of wavering.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy is under pressure to find a quick solution. He gambled by taking a personal role in supporting the rebels, but is now anxious to avoid costly military operations running into the start of campaigning for next year’s presidential election.
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