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Libyan opposition lays out conditions for cease-fire

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Libyan rebels attempting to organize
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A government spokesman says the rebels are not serious about the cease-fire
  • The ultimate goal is still regime change, the opposition says
  • Sources tell CNN Gadhafi could relinquish power to someone in his inner circle
  • Report: A senior adviser to one of Gadhafi's sons is in London for talks

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Tripoli, Libya (CNN) -- Battles raged in Libya on Friday as mixed messages of peace put forth from several corners brought no guarantees of an end to the bloody conflict.

In the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, Libyan opposition leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil laid out conditions for a cease-fire with Moammar Gadhafi's forces.

Among them were the removal of snipers, mercenaries and militias from western cities, an end to the sieges laid on cities such as Misrata and freedom of expression for the Libyan people.

But ultimately, he said, the opposition's goal remains regime change in Libya.

Jalil spoke at a podium with the United Nations special envoy to Libya, Abdelilah al-Khatib, who had carried the opposition's message to Tripoli the day before.

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Al-Khatib reiterated that the U.N. objective is to achieve a cease-fire and end the loss of civilian lives but he did not mention regime change, highlighting the discrepancy between the stated objectives of the Libyan opposition and the international community.

Meanwhile in Tripoli, Libyan government spokesman Musa Ibrahim told reporters that the rebels are not "really serious" about the offer of a cease-fire, which he said was tied to "silly conditions."

"They are asking us to withdraw from our own cities and open our cities to people, who are holding up arms, who are tribal, violent, no unified leadership, al Qaeda links, and no one knows who they are. If this is not mad, then I don't know what it is," he said. "We will not leave our cities. We will not stop protecting our civilians."

Ibrahim added that the Libyan government is ready for peace.

Sources close to Gadhafi told CNN that political solutions are still possible but that the Libyan leader would relinquish power only to others within his inner circle.

They said there is still time for dialogue but expressed doubts about who would represent the opposition.

Any transition, they said, would involve Gadhafi's second son, Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, and for such a transition to take place there would first have to be an end to the fighting.

The sources added that there is an emerging consensus within the regime that the old guard must prepare to give way to a younger generation of leaders.

Citing unnamed British government sources, the Guardian newspaper reported Friday that a senior adviser to Saif Gadhafi was in London for secret talks with British officials.

That adviser, Mohammed Ismael, told CNN earlier this week that he would be traveling to London for family reasons. Calls placed to his mobile phone by CNN on Friday were not answered.

Asked about the Guardian report, a British Foreign Office spokesman neither confirmed nor denied it.

"We are not going to provide running commentary on our contacts with Libyan officials," the spokesman said. "In any contact that we do have, we make it clear that Gadhafi has to go."

Ibrahim, the Libyan government spokesman, said he did not know where Ismael was and declined to comment on what he might be doing.

The Libyan sources told CNN that for now, Gadhafi remains confident the regime can withstand any challenge from the rebels.

Bad weather for the last two days forced a hiatus in international airstrikes, and in that time, rebel forces retreated from areas they had gained.

But in a fresh offensive Friday, Libyan opposition forces led by army units that have defected from Gadhafi's forces were able to pushed back Gadhafi's troops, rebel spokesman Shamsiddin Abdulmolah said.

Rebels were fighting with newly refurbished rocket launchers and artillery delivered to the frontlines Thursday night by the army units that switched sides, Abdulmolah said.

Fighting raged at the western gates of the oil town of al-Brega, which has changed hands six times in as many weeks under the dramatically shifting circumstances of Libya's civil war.

In the west, witnesses reported more explosions and fierce urban warfare in the besieged city of Misrata, once the final rebel stronghold in the western part of the country.

Gadhafi's heavily armed forces continued their pounding Friday amid a series of political setbacks. Observers said the surge in firepower reaffirmed the regime's message: Gadhafi is determined to prevail, and the defections of some of his high-profile allies are making him nervous.

"You're certainly getting evidence that there are a lot of tensions," said Anne-Marie Slaughter, a professor of international affairs at Princeton University.

"Each person that leaves, that makes it a little scarier for the people that are still remaining," she said. "And you may, at some point, get a tipping effect."

On Thursday, word emerged that Gadhafi's pick for U.N. ambassador, former Foreign Minister Ali Abdussalam Treki, had defected to Egypt. The day before, the latest foreign minister, Moussa Koussa, fled to London and told the government there that he had resigned.

U.S. officials claim Gadhafi's military capabilities have been steadily eroded since the onset of U.N.-sanctioned airstrikes.

But the dictator's forces still outnumber rebels by about 10-to-1 in terms of armor and other ground forces, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, also speaking before the House committee, warned that the Libyan rebels still need significant training and assistance.

"It's pretty much a pickup ballgame" right now, he said.

U.S. and British officials say no decision has been made about whether to arm the opposition.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen, Ben Wedeman, Nic Robertson, and Reza Sayah contributed to this report.

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