Libya rebels see victory by August end, deny talks

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Benghazi, Aug 17: Libya's rebels said on Tuesday their war against Muammar Gaddafi's regime had entered a "decisive phase" and that victory was within reach by the end of August. They also ruled out negotiations with the regime after Washington said the "days are numbered" for veteran strongman Muammar Gaddafi's regime.

As the chorus grew, fighting raged across Libya, with the rebels denying they were in talks with a defiant Gaddafi, who himself predicted swift victory against both the rebels and their NATO allies.

Mansur Saif al-Nasr, the rebel National Transitional Council's (NTC) envoy to Paris, said "our forces totally control Zawiyah (west of the capital), which will open the way to Tripoli. This will allow the population there to revolt."

"We are entering a decisive phase. Soon we will liberate all of southern Libya. We hope to celebrate the final victory at the same time as the end of (Muslim holy month of) Ramadan" at the end of August, he told France's RFI radio.

"The population inside Tripoli is preparing for the uprising," Nasr said. "A few weeks ago, Gaddafi's forces put down the revolt because they had air power and tanks, and our forces were not at the gates of Tripoli.

"Today, they have no more air power, no tanks and our forces are at the entrance to Tripoli." The United States expressed optimism that the rebels were closing in on Gaddafi, who has ruled for more than 40 years, with White House spokesman Jay Carney saying the increasingly isolated strongman's "days are numbered." 

Zawiyah is a vital oil port on Libya's Mediterranean coast, 40 kilometres west of Tripoli. Rebels claimed yesterday to control "most" of the town, but Gaddafi forces continued to bombard the area with Grad rockets, prompting a heavy artillery exchange.

Funerals were being held today, a day after 23 people were killed in the town, according to rebels. In an update on its operations, NATO said its warplanes hit tanks and an armed vehicle near Zawiyah.

NATO spokesman Colonel Roland Lavoie also condemned the launch of a Scud missile by Gaddafi's forces as "desperate" and "irresponsible." The missile was fired from some 80 kilometres south of the Gaddafi-loyal stronghold of Syrte, the Canadian officer said.

It landed about five kilometres east of rebel-held territory near Brega, in "an area currently under the control of anti-Gaddafi forces," but did not cause any casualties.

However, in contrast to the US assessment, while Lavoie said forces loyal to Gaddafi were retreating "often hurriedly," he also acknowledged that NATO's Libya mission remains "far from over." A defiant Gaddafi denied widespread rumours he had fled the country and predicted victory.

"The end of the coloniser (NATO) is close and the end of the rats is close. They (the rebels) flee from one house to another before the masses who are chasing them," Gaddafi declared in an audio message on Libyan television.

PTI

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