Forces loyal to Col. Moammar Gadhafi have launched a new round of attacks on rebel positions, keeping up a counteroffensive to prevent the opposition from advancing toward the capital Tripoli, as Col. Gadhafi's inner circle is debating whether the man in charge of Libya since 1969 should remain in power or relinquish his role, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Libyan warplanes launched at least five strikes Tuesday near the oil port of Ras Lanouf, the Associated Press reported, with no immediate word on casualties.
On a separate front, a witness said Col. Gadhafi's loyalists have launched an attack on Zawiya, the city closest to Tripoli that had fallen into opposition hands after heavy shelling by tank artillery and mortars. The witness told the AP that Col. Gadhafi's tanks and fighting vehicles were roaming the city 30 miles west of Tripoli and firing randomly at homes.
"The city is in ruins," he said. "Some buildings have been entirely destroyed and everyone on the street is shot on sight. There are many wounded but the hospitals are running out of supplies," he said, describing conditions in the city after the regime's counteroffensive on Monday. The offensive on Zawiya is thought to be spearheaded by an elite unit led and named after one of Gadhafi's sons, Khamis.
The latest attacks Tuesday come as Col. Gadhafi's government invited rebels and tribal leaders to negotiate a political solution, and Western nations continued to take steps to prepare for a possible military intervention.
In Tripoli, reform-minded officials in the government were lobbying for a plan that calls on Col. Gadhafi to cede power to a council of technocrats who could shepherd a transition toward democratic reforms and a government based on modern institutions, according to a person familiar with the situation.
Under this plan, Col. Gadhafi would be given an honorary title reflecting his service to the country, but be removed from day-to-day decision-making, according to this person.
Members of Col. Gadhafi's family have been briefed on the plan, according to this person. The threat of prosecution at an international criminal court could deter Col. Gadhafi from agreeing to a negotiated solution, a U.S. official said.
It is unclear which camp within Col. Gadhafi's inner circle—hard-liners or reformists—has more sway. Two of the leader's sons are commanders of the brigades leading military assaults against opposition-held positions.
As the fighting continues, Col. Gadhafi is coming under mounting pressure from Western nations as well as some Arab countries. On Monday, President Barack Obama said the U.S. was discussing military options with allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
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