Libyan rebels advanced toward Sirte, Muammar Qaddafi’s hometown, where they said forces loyal to the leader used civilians as human shields to block opposition fighters from entering.
Rebels have been waiting for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to bomb Scud missile sites so they can move ahead even as they negotiate with Sirte tribal leaders to enter the city peacefully.
The rebels will need about 10 days to capture Sirte “if negotiations fail to enter the town without fight,” Colonel Salim Miftah, one of the rebel commanders, told Al-Jazeera. “Our main goal is liberation not blood.”
Sirte is a haven for Qaddafi loyalists, according to the rebel command and NATO. Qaddafi’s whereabouts are unknown. His chief spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, told the Associated Press Aug. 27 that Qaddafi remains in Libya and wants to negotiate with the rebels to form a transitional government.
At least four Scud missiles have been launched from Sirte at the rebel stronghold of Misrata over the past two weeks, Abdullah Maiteeg, a rebel fighter, said in an interview.
Rebel units pushed toward the town from east and west along the coastal highway yesterday, Commander Ali Ahmed of the rebel Sidra Brigade said in an interview.
The rebels have been trying to find Qaddafi, consolidate their gains and bring stability to the country since entering the capital, Tripoli, last week. The rebel National Transitional Council officially transferred its headquarters to Tripoli from Benghazi, in the east, on Aug. 24.
The Libyan rebel government won’t deport the man convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, its justice minister said, according to the Associated Press. U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, had encouraged the rebel council to hold Abdel-Baset al-Megrahi fully accountable for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103, which killed 270 people.
Justice Minister Mohammed al-Alagi told reporters in Tripoli that the request had “no meaning” because al-Megrahi had already been tried and convicted.
“We will not hand over any Libyan citizen. It was Qaddafi who handed over Libyan citizens,” the AP quoted him as saying, as he referred to the government’s decision to turn al-Megrahi over to the jurisdiction of the Scottish court for trial in the Netherlands in 1999. Al-Megrahi spent almost nine years in Scottish prison until he was released in 2009 for health reasons. Al-Megrahi’s current whereabouts are unknown.
With Tripoli under their control, the rebel leaders were turning to domestic concerns including a water shortage and spread of disease.
Unicef, the United Nations Children’s Fund, said it expected to deliver more than 110,000 bottles of water to Tripoli by yesterday.
“Around 5 million liters of water is being procured by Unicef from neighboring countries to be trucked and shipped with the assistance of a UN vessel and regional shipping companies to Tripoli in the coming days,” the organization said in an e-mailed statement.
“We remain extremely concerned about the situation,” Christian Balslev-Olesen, head of the Unicef office in Libya, said. “This could turn into an unprecedented health epidemic.”
The U.K. announced plans for “urgent humanitarian support,” including medical care and food, for people affected by the conflict. The U.K. will supply surgical teams and medicines for the treatment of up to 5,000 war-wounded patients, and food for nearly 690,000 people, International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell said in an e-mail Aug. 27.
The opposition council claimed full control of Libya’s oil fields. Nouri Balroin, the head of the NTC’s oil production unit, said output will resume within three weeks, Al Jazeera reported yesterday. Oil experts will follow a three-stage plan to restore the flow of oil to 1.6 million barrels a day within 15 months, he said, according to the Qatar-based network. Ras Lanuf refinery is able to restart operations at any time, Al Arabiya reported, citing the director of the facility.
The conflict has all but halted oil exports from Libya, which has the largest proven reserves of any African country. Output dropped to 100,000 barrels a day in July, down from the 1.6 million barrels pumped before the uprising started.
Crude oil for October delivery rose 7 cents to settle at $85.37 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange Aug. 26. Futures increased 3.8 percent this week, the first weekly gain since July, and are up 16 percent in the past year.
Evidence of atrocities emerged at a former regime military base, where the handcuffed bodies of 130 Libyan rebels and the remains of 20 civilians were found, a Libyan activist and journalist in Tripoli, Numedia al-Trabulsi, told Al Jazeera in a telephone interview Aug. 27.
The bodies were found in the Khamis Camp in Tripoli, now under rebel control. The Khamis Brigade is a special forces military unit led by Qaddafi’s youngest son, Khamis.
Amnesty International said it has uncovered evidence that loyalist forces killed detainees at two military camps in Tripoli on Aug. 23 and 24.