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Rebels Poised To Attack Gadhafi Stronghold

BANI WALID, Libya, Sept. 5 (UPI) — Libyan rebels were poised to attack one of Moammar Gadhafi’s last strongholds Monday after talks for the city’s peaceful surrender collapsed, a spokesman said.

The attack on besieged Bani Walid, a desert city of 60,000 people about 90 miles southeast of Tripoli, may have begun, with al-Jazeera reporting fighting within the city.

Col. Ahmed Bani, spokesman for Libya’s new Defense Ministry, told al-Jazeera Sunday night the town would be “liberated completely” within hours, but said he hoped fighting would be minimal and that people in Bani Walid would rise up to greet anti-Gadhafi forces as people did in Tripoli late last month, when rebel forces captured the Libyan capital, sending Gadhafi and his family on the run.

Many pro-democracy fighters are members of the Warfala tribe that dominates Bani Walid, and some have relatives there, The Washington Post reported.

The rebels had extended a surrender deadline more than once, chief rebel negotiator Abdullah Kanshil told reporters Sunday. But Gadhafi’s collapsing inner circle made unacceptable demands, “said they don’t want to talk [and] are threatening everyone who moves,” he said.

“They are putting snipers on high-rise buildings and inside olive groves,” he said. “They have a big fire force.”

Commanders also said one of Gadhafi’s sons, Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, fled Bani Walid Saturday after attending the funeral of his youngest brother Khamis Gadhafi, former commander of the Libyan army’s special forces Khamis Brigade who was ambushed and killed on his way to Bani Walid last month.

Kanshil said from a checkpoint about 37 miles outside Bani Walid he believed two other sons and former government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim, were still in the city.

Ibrahim was reported involved with the failed negotiations with the rebels.

Bani Walid tribal elders had also come out to negotiate after Libya’s NATO-backed transitional government said several times Saturday the talks were just about over and rebel forces were about to attack.

Anti-Gadhafi forces were also reported surrounding the fugitive leader’s hometown, the coastal city of Sirte.

Separately, transitional government officials said Sunday Chinese state companies offered in recent weeks to sell huge stockpiles of weapons and ammunition to Gadhafi’s crumbling government in apparent violation of U.N. sanctions.

They cited apparent Gadhafi regime documents published by Canada’s Globe and Mail Saturday that said the Chinese arms companies offered $200 million in rocket launchers, antitank missiles, portable surface-to-air missiles designed to bring down aircraft, and other weapons and munitions.

The Arabic documents are authentic, transitional government officials said.

Rebel military spokesman Abdulrahman Busin told The New York Times transitional authorities would seek accountability through appropriate international channels, adding any country that had violated the sanctions would have poor prospects for business and other dealings with Libya, an oil-rich country.

Beijing had no immediate comment. U.S. State Department, Pentagon and intelligence officials in Washington said they were unaware of such dealings and would need more time to analyze the documents.

A senior NATO diplomat in Brussels told the Times he thought the allegation was highly unlikely, but said he was not familiar with the documents cited in the article.

UPI - United Press International, Inc.

Since 1907, United Press International (UPI) has been a leading provider of critical information to media outlets, businesses, governments and researchers worldwide.

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