In a joint news conference with United Nations special envoy
Abdelilah al-Khatib, a former Jordanian foreign minister, Abdel
Jalil said: “We have no objection to a cease-fire but on condition
that Libyans in western cities have full freedom in expressing their
views.” He said the rebels insist that “the Gaddafi brigades and
forces withdraw from inside and outside Libyan cities to give
freedom to the Libyan people to choose, and the world will see that
they will choose freedom.”
The rebels’ ultimate goal remains the departure of Gaddafi, Abdel
Jalil said. He told reporters: “Our aim is to liberate and have
sovereignty over all of Libya with its capital in Tripoli.”
Abdel Jalil also called for the removal of “mercenary” troops
under any cease-fire, Reuters news agency reported. He made the
comments as Khatib visited the rebel stronghold for talks on a
cease-fire and a political solution to the six-week-old Libyan
The talks came as Gaddafi’s forces continued to lay siege to
Misurata, Libya’s third-largest city 130 miles east of Tripoli,
while also pressing an offensive in eastern Libya that has driven
the rebels out of several Mediterranean coastal towns and oil hubs
In Misurata, where rebels have been under siege for more than a
month, government forces shelled the city with tanks and mortars
Friday and attacked shops and homes in the city center, Reuters
About 100 miles south of Benghazi, rebels were guarding the
western entrance to the strategic city of Ajdabiya while fighting
reportedly continued around Brega, an oil refinery town about 50
miles to the southwest.
With the rebels again on the defensive after having recaptured
Ajdabiya over the weekend, opposition officials took some solace in
the defection Wednesday of Gaddafi’s foreign minister and former
intelligence chief, Musa Kusa. They joined U.S. and British
officials in hailing the move as evidence that the Gaddafi regime
was crumbling from within, and rumors swirled around the Libyan
capital Thursday that as many as 15 top regime officials had fled to
Tunisia and were seeking refuge in the West.
But it was unclear whether Kusa’s departure would have an
immediate effect on the balance of power on the ground or trigger
the mass defections that U.S. officials said they were hoping for.
On Friday, a British government official told The Washington Post
that Mohammed Ismail, a senior aide and discreet fixer for Gaddafi’s
powerful son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, was in London recently to talk
to government officials.
British media reports have speculated that Ismail was in London to
open lines of communication with the West, perhaps to explore exit
strategies for one or more members of the Gaddafi family.
A spokeswoman at the British Foreign Office declined to comment on
the visit, saying: “We’re not going to provide running commentary on
our contacts with Libyan officials.”
As a longtime Libyan insider, Kusa is the most senior official to
abandon Gaddafi since the popular uprising began in February.
Analysts and officials said he is likely to provide NATO officials
valuable intelligence on the effects of the bombing campaign against
Libyan forces as well as psychological insights into the morale of
Gaddafi and his inner circle, which could be used to persuade other
government officials to quit.
On Thursday, a second top Foreign Ministry official, Ali Abdel
Salam al-Treki, announced his defection in a statement faxed to news
agencies by his nephew. Treki is a former deputy foreign minister
and had recently been named Libya’s representative to the United
The names of other putative defectors circulated throughout the
day, with the prime minister, the oil minister, the head of Libya’s
supreme legislative body — the People’s General Congress — and the
chief of external intelligence among those variously reported to be
waiting at an airport in Tunisia or in Tunis hotels for flights to
But the oil minister told the Reuters news agency by telephone
that he was in his office in Tripoli, and the intelligence chief,
Bouzeid Dorda, later denied he had defected, saying he would never
“betray” Gaddafi. There also was no confirmation that any other
officials had quit.
U.S. and British officials hailed Kusa’s surprise appearance in
London on Wednesday and appealed to other Libyan officials to follow
“If there was ever a sign that the inner circle of the regime is
crumbling, it was the defection yesterday of Musa Kusa,” said White
House spokesman Jay Carney.
British Prime Minister David Cameron called Kusa’s defection “a
serious blow to Gaddafi’s authority.”
British officials said Kusa was cooperating voluntarily even
though he had been given no promises of immunity from prosecution
for crimes he is suspected to have committed during the decades he
served as Libya’s intelligence chief and Gaddafi’s confidant.
But with Libya on a war footing as battles rage between rebel
fighters and government forces in the east, the resignation of the
country’s top diplomat may have no immediate effect. In eastern
Libya, rebel leaders said they hoped Kusa would be brought to trial
for his role in oppressing Libyans.
“Effective government is on hold, and Gaddafi is really governing
on a crisis basis with his sons around him,” said David Hartwell, a
Middle East and North Africa analyst for the defense analysis group
IHS Jane’s. “While it’s very embarrassing for Gaddafi and will
likely make him very distrustful of those around him, on the ground,
he’s enjoying military success. So, it’s a mixed blessing.”
Kusa’s real value will come in the form of the insights he offers
into the workings of the regime, the leadership’s state of mind,
Gaddafi’s plans and who around him may be wavering, Hartwell said.
Kusa is also likely to possess important information about many of
the atrocities committed by the regime in the years before Gaddafi,
with Kusa’s help, engineered his rapprochement with the West in
Scottish prosecutors sought Thursday to question Kusa over his
alleged role in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over
Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people, most of them
The Libyan government sought to play down Kusa’s defection,
describing his decision as a personal one.
“Colonel Gaddafi is surrounded by many, many people who admire him
and are prepared to work under his leadership,” said government
spokesman Moussa Ibrahim. “People are saying, ‘So what if someone
wants to step down. It’s his personal decision.’ The fight
continues. We are ready to talk, ready for peace, but we are ready
also to fight.”
Ibrahim, however, acknowledged that the defection, which came
after Kusa requested leave to receive medical treatment in Tunisia,
caught the government by surprise.
“We do believe Mr. Musa Kusa is genuinely tired, physically,
emotionally and mentally, due to his age,” the spokesman said. “He
did not notify us of his intention. We hope he recovers
. . .
and if he feels better, we welcome him with open arms.”
The Libyan news agency JANA issued a brief statement from Gaddafi
late Thursday condemning the NATO-led bombing campaign and calling
on world leaders to resign, but it gave no indication of where the
statement was issued or where Gaddafi is. He has not been seen or
heard from since March 23, though Libyan officials insist he is
still living in his compound in Tripoli.
Adam, a special correspondent, reported from London. Branigin
reported from Washington.