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Can a fierce battle for Qaddafi's home town be avoided?

Anti-Qaddafi militias have the coastal city of Sirte surrounded and they may not give loyalists in the Qaddafi stronghold much longer to negotiate a surrender deal.

Rebel fighters in trucks drive down a road in the Bin Jawad area on their way to the city of Sirte, about 267 miles west from the city of Benghazi, Saturday.

Esam Al-Fetori/Reuters

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Libyan revolutionaries have not yet conducted any negotiations with the leaders of Muammar Qaddafi's home city of Sirte, but hope to within several days, the leader of Libya’s anti-Qaddafi forces in the east said Saturday.

“We've been asking to negotiate with [Qaddafi loyalist leaders in] Sirte, but nobody has come out to negotiate with us,” says Fawzy Boukatif.

Several fairly high-ranking figures from Qaddafi’s regime are thought to be in Sirte, along with the “remains” of all the brigades that have been fighting in the area and have steadily retreated toward the city in recent weeks, says Mr. Boukatif.

How negotiations play out over the next week will determine whether a fierce and deadly battle for the city can be avoided – or at least limited. Another key factor is whether the people of the longtime Qaddafi stronghold will fight alongside the hardcore loyalists or abandon them.

“The problem is there are some figures there and they have been committed to Qaddafi for the past decades, and of course they will be legally accused of lots of [crimes],” says Boukatif, adding that those figures are pushing the people of Sirte to fight to the end. “But once the people decide they not going to fight for the cause of the others, the problem will be solved.”

Whether that will happen, he says, should become clear in the next two to three days.

Successful surrenders

On Thursday, however, Boukatif helped negotiated the surrender of two towns to the east of Sirte: Umm El Gindeel and Harawa, he says.

In both cities, tribal elders came outside the city to talk with counterparts from the area. When the city’s elders indicated they were willing to surrender, Boukatif and National Transitional Council (NTC) Defense Minister Jalal Dagheily negotiated the final terms, says Boukatif.

In both towns, the citizens agreed to give up the weapons that Qaddafi’s forces had given them to fight the rebels.


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