- The Washington Times - Friday, September 16, 2011

Libyan rebels on Friday were engaged in fierce battles with forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi in three of the ousted dictator’s remaining strongholds.

Rebels on the front lines said pro-Gadhafi fighters in the town of Bani Walid, 90 miles southeast of Tripoli, and Sirte on the Mediterranean coast were putting up a stiff resistance.

In New York, the United Nations General Assembly voted 114-17 to give Libya’s seat to the rebels’ National Transitional Council.

In the southern city of Sebha, rebel sources said residents had taken control of parts of the city.

Rebels said they believe that two of Col. Gadhafi’s sons — one-time heir apparent Seif al-Islam and national security adviser Moatassim — are hiding in Bani Walid.

Col. Gadhafi’s whereabouts are not known, and members of his family have fled to Algeria and Niger.

Rebels had taken control of the airport in Sirte, the birthplace of Col. Gadhafi. His tribe, the Gadhafa, remain loyal to the deposed strongman.

Rebels want to take control of the Ghardabiya air base, south of Sirte, where they say the regime’s forces have stockpiles of Scud missiles. At least eight Scuds have been fired at rebel positions during the conflict, which started in February.

The rebels’ offensive gained a sense of urgency with the discovery of documents in the town of Al Ajelat, west of Tripoli, that confirmed the distribution of gas masks and hazardous material suits by the regime to Sirte, Bani Walid and the town of Jufra in July.

“The fact that these suits were dispatched in July is a sign that maybe [Col. Gadhafi] is up to something, or just bluffing,” said Mohamed, a rebel spokesman in Tripoli who only gave his first name.

Meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with the head of the rebels’ National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, in Tripoli on Friday.

Mr. Abdel-Jalil will travel to New York next week to attend a session of the U.N. General Assembly.

President Obama will meet the rebel chief in New York on Tuesday.

“The president will have an opportunity to congratulate Chairman Jalil on the success of the Libyan people in ending the Gadhafi regime,” said Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications at the White House.

“He’ll be able to express U.S. support for a post-Gadhafi transition in Libya and to discuss the [rebel council’s] plans for a post-Gadhafi transition,” Mr. Rhodes said.

British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday visited Tripoli and the eastern city Benghazi, the birthplace of the revolution.

The rebels urged Mr. Cameron and Mr. Sarkozy to continue NATO operations in Libya until the entire country is under their control.

NATO aircraft bombed the ousted regime’s targets near Sirte and Sebha. Airstrikes took out a military storage facility, armored vehicles, multiple rocket launchers and air missile systems.

Rebels had been negotiating a peaceful takeover of the pro-Gadhafi strongholds with the tribal chiefs, but those talks broke down a day before a rebel deadline was due to expire last week.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), meanwhile, warned of a dire humanitarian situation in Bani Walid, Jufra and Sabha.

“We are concerned about a further deterioration of the humanitarian situation in these three areas as well as in and around Sirte. Heavy fighting has already taken place and it could intensify,” said Georges Comninos, the head of the ICRC delegation in Tripoli.

Detta Gleeson, an ICRC health delegate, said the central hospital in Bani Walid is not functional and staff cannot reach the hospital because of the fighting.

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