But loyalists still retained control of most of Surt and another remaining loyalist redoubt, Bani Walid, and NATO said tens of thousands of trapped civilians remained under threat.
NATO also announced that anti-Gaddafi forces under the command of the Transitional National Council, as Libya’s new government is known, were now in full control of Colonel Gaddafi’s remaining supplies of chemical weapons and nuclear material, which he had been in the process of relinquishing to Western powers before the uprising that toppled him last month.
Col. Roland Lavoie, a NATO spokesman, said at a briefing at NATO command headquarters in Naples, Italy, that he was confident the new authorities in Libya would work with international organizations to guarantee the security of the chemical weapons and nuclear material and “start planning for their safe disposal.”
Colonel Lavoie said that an estimated 200,000 civilians were at risk from armed Gaddafi loyalists, primarily in Surt and Bani Walid, and that acute shortages of water, food, fuel and power were “putting enormous pressure on the population.”
The threat to civilians in Surt has come as well from anti-Gaddafi fighters, who have shelled the city for weeks even as they have tried to coax residents out.
A spokesman for the Transitional National Council, Jalal el-Gallal, said the anti-Gaddafi fighters had seized the city’s port area, but there was no immediate confirmation of that claim.
A former rebel commander said that an elder belonging to Colonel Gaddafi’s tribe had reached out to negotiate a cease-fire in Surt, Reuters reported. The commander, Touhami Zayani, was quoted as saying that he had agreed to allow families from the tribe to leave, but was still negotiating the surrender of Colonel Qaddafi’s armed loyalists.
The inability of the anti-Gaddafi forces to capture Surt and other areas has become a frustrating obstacle to the Transitional National Council’s declaration of complete victory in the seven-month conflict.
The new leaders have frequently referred to the stalemate to explain their troubles, which include their failure to name a post-conflict government and their difficulties sending home thousands of armed militiamen from all over the country who have deployed in Tripoli, giving residents here the feeling of living in an occupied city.
The chairman of the transitional council, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, was scheduled to return to Tripoli on Wednesday, where he was expected to pressure militias from Zintan, Misurata and other towns to either withdraw to the outskirts of the capital or go home, according to a council official.
Colonel Gaddafi and his family, on the run or in exile, have continued to taunt the former rebels. A Syrian television station broadcast what it described as a Sept. 20 rally led by Colonel Gaddafi’s son and onetime heir apparent, Seif al-Islam Gaddafi, exhorting followers at an unidentified stronghold to fight back against his father’s enemies. “This land is the land of your forefathers. Don’t hand it over,” he said in the broadcast on the station, Al Arrai, according to Reuters. “Brothers, you need to enter Tripoli today by force.” It was impossible to verify the authenticity of the footage.
Colonel Gaddafi’s daughter Aisha Gaddafi, meanwhile, appeared to irritate the authorities in neighboring Algeria, where she and some other members of the Gaddafi clan have sought refuge. Last week she was quoted by Al Arrai as saying that her father was well and “fighting along with his sons at the fronts.”
Algeria’s official news agency, APS, said Tuesday that the daughter and other Gaddafi relatives had been told to “respect their status as guests in Algeria and remove themselves completely from any political action.” NYT