The forces of Muammar Gaddafi continuing to offer resistance will face full-scale military assaults unless they surrender by Saturday, Libya's new rebel government declared yesterday.
The message is aimed at Sirte – the dictator's birthplace and the biggest loyalist stronghold left – and other pockets of support under siege, including the towns of Sabha and Bani Walid.
There is persistent speculation that Colonel Gaddafi has fled to one of the few towns still under the control of his supporters. Algeria, which has given refuge to members of his family and was seen as a possible bolthole, is said to have decided that it will hand over the Libyan dictator to the International Criminal Court (ICC) – which has issued a warrant for his arrest – should he enter the country.
The opposition forces have criticised Algeria for letting in the Gaddafi family members, but, according to reports from Algiers, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika told the cabinet that Algeria would respect international law.
In Libya, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, head of the Transitional National Council, said in Benghazi that unless there was a "peaceful indication, we will decide this matter militarily. We do not wish to do so but we cannot wait longer." The rebel military spokesman, Colonel Ahmed Bani, added "zero hour is quickly approaching".
The ultimatum – if ignored – threatens to add to what the rebels yesterday estimated was 50,000 deaths in Libya since the uprising began six months ago.
"In Misrata and Zlitan between 15,000 and 17,000 were killed and Jebel Nafusa (the Western Mountains) took a lot of casualties," Colonel Hisham Buhagiar, commander of the anti-Gaddafi troops, said.
"We liberated about 28,000 prisoners. We presume that all those missing are dead. Then there was Ajdabiya, Brega. Many people were killed there too," he said, referring to towns repeatedly fought over in eastern Libya.Reuse content