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Rebels in Libya are preparing for a possible attack on Bani Walid, a remaining stronghold of support for ousted Col. Muammar Qaddafi, and one location in which the former Libyan strongman could be hiding.
Talks aimed at a peaceful takeover of the city ended Sunday without an agreement, rebels told Al Jazeera, and fighters are preparing "to take the town by force."
"We are ready from three fronts: north and east and west," Mahmoud Abdul Aziz, a political analyst and one of those on the negotiation team, told Al Jazeera.
"Their time is over," he said, referring to Gaddafi loyalists in the town who had refused to give up their arms. "The push is going to happen in the next 24 hours."
"This is aside from the Gaddafi loyalists who we've heard have come out, who are manning checkpoints... civilians who have weapons," she said. "But actual Gaddafi troops - they're saying no more than 100."Al Jazeera's Sue Turton said that NTC fighters outside of Bani Walid have estimated Gaddafi troops remaining in Bani Walid number less than 100.
Some NTC fighters, who established a frontline about 30km from Bani Wali, suggested on Saturday that the town could be attacked within hours, and Al Jazeera's James Bays said on Sunday morning: "[NTC] forces are now surrounding Bani Walid and threatening to go in."
There is some hope that bloodshed could be avoided, the Associated Press reported Sunday morning, especially if the Warfala, the dominant tribe in that region of Libya, decides that standing by what remains of Qaddafi's loyalists isn't worth risking a battle for the city.
Col. Ahmed Bani, the rebel's military spokesman based in Benghazi, said members of the tribe that dominates Bani Walid and is the largest in Libya, the Warfala, are divided over whether to join the rebels. He said he expected the Warfala to surrender to avoid fighting among one another.
"They will give up at the end because they are cousins and they don't want to spill each other's blood," he said.
Bani added people in Bani Walid have told the rebels that one of Gadhafi's sons, Seif al-Islam, had fled to Bani Walid soon after Tripoli fell, but left recently for fear townspeople would hand him over to the rebels.
Update: Change is coming quickly. The Guardian reports that Qaddafi loyalists - possibly including members of his family - are said to be fleeing Bani Walid ahead of the possible invasion, and after residents of the city raised rebel flags in defiance of what remains of the strongman's regime.
The impetus for the apparent departure seemed to be a local uprising, which saw green loyalist flags torn down and regime checkpoints on Bani Walid's outskirts evacuated. It was not immediately clear whether the uprising was localised to one area, or had spread to other parts of Bani Walid.
Rebels were planning to send forays into town to test the mood of the people, who had largely been loyal to the ousted Gaddafi regime since the fall of Tripoli. They had expected to confront 500-600 loyalist soldiers with about 2,000 rebels.
Meanwhile, in Tripoli, the new independent government has begun the delicate task of bringing uniformity to the ragtag rebel armies that helped push Qaddafi from power.
“We agreed in principle that the protection of the capital will be assigned mainly to the Ministry of the Interior, and particularly the police forces,” an official from the rebels' executive board told The New York Times.
It might not be quite that simple.
However, rebel leaders have not yet announced a schedule for disbanding irregular militias, and no training programs have yet been established for them. It is also unclear if all of the armed rebels will agree to put down their weapons when told to do so.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.