Tripoli – A French newspaper has reported that Gaddafi was tired of fighting a civil war under constant pressure from NATO bombs, and would step down if allowed to remain in his country.
France Soir, citing “reliable sources, close to Libyan power”, said people in Gaddafi’s entourage had been holding secret meetings with representatives from Western countries, including France, for weeks.
It said Gaddafi, traumatised by the death of a son and three grandchildren in a NATO raid, was tired of living as a hunted man and spent several hours a day watching Arabic news channels and surfing news on Arab, English and Italian web sites.
In his public pronouncements, Gaddafi has vowed to fight to the death.
NATO air strikes rock Tripoli again
NATO has carried out its heaviest air strikes against Libya’s capital in more than two months of bombing, amid upbeat comments from France and the U.S.
The two NATO allies are upbeat that increase tempo of strkes signal progress towards ending Muammar Gaddafi’s rule.
Six loud explosions rocked Tripoli late on Tuesday within 10 minutes, following powerful strikes 24 hours earlier, including one on Gaddafi’s compound, that Libyan officials said killed 19 people and state television blamed on “colonialist crusaders”.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said on Tuesday that the NATO bombing campaign was making progress and should achieve its objectives within months, while an alliance official said Tuesday’s early strike was “the most concentrated to date”.
France, Britain and the U.S. are leading the air strikes, which started on March 19 after the UN Security Council authorised “all necessary measures” to protect civilians from Gaddafi’s forces as he sought to crush an uprising against his 41-year rule.
The three countries say they will keep up the campaign until Gaddafi leaves power, and Juppe’s upbeat assessment came after the U.S. said the Libyan leader’s departure was inevitable.
“There are more and more centres of resistance to Gaddafi, especially in the west,” Juppe said during a question and answer session in the French parliament.
“I can assure you that our will is to ensure that the mission in Libya does not last longer than a few months.”
France said this week it would deploy attack helicopters to ensure more precise attacks against Gaddafi forces embedded among the civilian population of Libyan cities, and Britain said on Tuesday it was considering doing the same.
Military analysts said these plans and the intensified bombing of Tripoli reflected growing Western worries that Libya’s civil war was dragging on indecisively, but they said the new moves may not be enough to tip the balance quickly.
Diplomatic activity is also intensifying, as G8 world powers will discuss ways to break the impasse this week, with some expecting Russia to propose a mediation plan to the meeting.
South Africa’s Talk Radio 702, citing sources in Libya, said President Jacob Zuma would visit Tripoli next week to dicuss an exit strategy for Gaddafi, and AU heads of state were meeting in Addis Ababa later on Wednesday.
Zuma’s last attempt to secure a ceasefire, in April, was rejected by rebels who did not trust Gaddafi to adhere to one.
While critics argue that NATO has overstepped its mandate, rebels have complained Western forces are not doing enough to break Gaddafi’s army.
Gaddafi denies his forces target civilians and says rebels, who control the east of the oil-producing country, are criminals, religious extremists and members of al Qaeda.
The U.S.bolstered the credentials of the Benghazi-based rebel National Transitional Council as a potential government-in-waiting on Tuesday when a U.S. envoy invited it to set up a representative office in Washington.
Unlike France, Italy and Qatar, the U.S. has not established formal diplomatic ties with the rebels.
Jordan said on Tuesday it recognised the rebel council as a legitimate representative of Libya’s people and planned to open an office in Benghazi.
Libyan news agency Jana said targets hit by NATO on Tuesday included a Tripoli mosque called Nuri Bani, though this could not be independently verified.