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Libya fighters surge towards Gaddafi hometown

Rebels encounter fierce resistanceLibyan fighters are advancing towards Muammar Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte, and have come under fire from forces still loyal to the embattled Libyan leader.

Sirte is considered the last remaining bastion of support for the man whose decades-long rule of Libya is effectively over, with the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) now widely recognised as the country's legitimate government.

The fighters have gained control of a number of key locations over the last days, including Bin Jawad, which they claimed late on Saturday.

Sirte 'will be liberated'

Meanwhile, rebel spokesman Ahmed Bani also told a news conference on Sunday that fighters control the road between Tripoli and Sabha, a bastion of support for Gaddafi in the southern desert.

The opposition's plan is to advance on Sabha after taking control of the coastal town of Sirte, Gaddafi's home town, the Reuters news agency reported.

"In the event they refuse, we will take it [Sirte] by force," Bani said at the news conference.

"Sirte is not a different story, Sirte must be liberated, we will liberate all parts of Libya.

"We will give peaceful solutions a priority, then we will take our decision ... Sirte is a Libyan city and Sirte will never be under the control of the dictator."

Willing to negotiate

Meanwhile on Sunday, sources said that Gaddafi was ready to discuss a transition of power to be negotiated by his son, al-Saadi.

Moussa Ibrahim, Gaddafi's spokesman, earlier told the Associated Press news agency in a phone call that Gaddafi was still in Libya and prepared to discuss the formation of a transitional government.

The phone call appears to represent a change of policy by Gaddafi, who last week referred to the rebels as "thugs" and "rats" and urged loyalists to continue fighting even as his opponents seized control of Tripoli.

But a top official in the NTC told Reuters that Libya's rebel government would not negotiate with Gaddafi unless he surrendered.

"No negotiation is taking place with Gaddafi," Ali Tarhouni, the NTC official in charge of oil and financial matters said.

Gaddafi's whereabouts remains unknown and rebels have offered a reward for his capture or killing.

Appeal for restraint

Mahmoud Jibril, a leading figure in the National Transitional Council, meanwhile appealed for restraint and urged Libyans not to take revenge.

"Don't get taken aback while you are at the height of your celebrations... It's the right of all of us, to understand why we've been treated badly for the last 42 years. There will be a true opportunity for every prisoner to have a fair trial, and to see their way to the light.

"All Libyans have a responsibility today to protect their safety, what they own, and they must even protect those who have hurt us."

On Saturday, Jibril represented the Libyan delegation at an Arab League meeting in Cairo, where he urged Arab nations to help rebuild and stabilise his country and to assist in unfreezing  Libyan assets abroad.

The Arab League readmitted Libya to the regional bloc on Saturday, turning over the country's seat to the NTC and effectively recognising the rebel body as the legitimate authority in Libya.

Open border

Elsewhere, Tunisian authorities opened the main border crossing into Libya, Reuters reported on Sunday.

The opening of the border came after Libyan rebels defeated Gaddafi loyalists in skirmishes over a key border checkpoint with Tunisia, this is going to be a vital supply route into the war-ravaged country.

Gaining control of the Ras Ajdir crossing allows rebels to channel fresh supplies and aid to Tripoli, amid fears of a developing humanitarian crisis in the capital and elsewhere.


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