Libya rebels poised to attack Gadhafi stronghold

By HADEEL AL-SHALCHI | September 4, 2011 | 3:50 AM EDT

A rebel fighter sits on top of a weapon outside a military base approximately 45 kilometers outside of Bani Walid, Libya, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011. Over one hundred armed vehicles left from Misrata rebel outposts this morning on a mission to overtake a loyalist army ground forces base near Bani Walid. (AP Photo/Gaia Anderson)

TARHOUNA, Libya (AP) — Libyan rebels are poised to attack one of Moammar Gadhafi's remaining strongholds, saying Sunday that surrender talks have collapsed.

Rebels control most of Libya and are moving forward with setting up a new government, but they might hold off on declaring victory until Gadhafi is caught and his remaining strongholds are defeated. Gadhafi and his staunchest allies have been on the run since the fall of the capital late last month. Loyalists have entrenched themselves in several towns, including besieged Bani Walid, some 90 miles (140 kilometers) southeast of Tripoli.

Rebel officials have given conflicting statements on where they believe Gadhafi is hiding. Bani Walid, Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte and the loyalist town of Sabha, deep in the Libyan desert, have been mentioned.

Thousands of rebel fighters have converged on Bani Walid in recent days, with the closest forces about 10 miles (15 kilometers) from the town center.

Rebel leaders said they tried to negotiate a peaceful surrender, but accused Bani Walid tribal leaders of stalling.

"Negotiations are over, and we are waiting for orders" to attack, said Mohammed al-Fassi, a rebel commander at a staging area about 45 miles (70 kilometers) from Bani Walid. "We wanted to do this without bloodshed, but they took advantage of our timeline to protect themselves."

Al-Fassi said more Gadhafi loyalists have moved into Bani Walid from the south, but did not know how many.

Bani Walid is a base of the 1-million-strong Warfala tribe, one-sixth of Libya's population. Gadhafi said in an audio message last week that the Warfala would be among the tribes defending him to the death.

But Bani Walid also has a history of opposition to Gadhafi. Western diplomats in Libya and opposition leaders abroad reported in 1993 that the air force had put down an uprising by army units in Misrata and Bani Walid. They said many officers were executed and arrested.