Rebels say 50,000 have died in Libyan civil war

Reports Gaddafi may have left Tripoli for southern desert town of Sabha; daughter gives birth in Algeria.

Libyan Rebels in Tank 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Libyan Rebels in Tank 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
TRIPOLI/BENGHAZI - Libya's interim leader gave forces loyal to deposed ruler Muammar Gaddafi a four-day deadline on Tuesday to surrender towns they still control or face a bloody end to a war that the new leadership said has so far killed 50,000 people.
As the hunt for Gaddafi himself goes on, Libyan officials accused Algeria of an act of aggression for giving refuge to his fleeing wife and three of his children, as well as, it turned out, to a new grand-daughter, born on Tuesday.
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Algeria's Foreign Ministry said Gaddafi's wife Safia, and his sons Hannibal and Mohammed had entered Algeria on Monday morning, along with their children. His pregnant daughter Aisha was also among the party and she gave birth within a day to a girl, a source close to Algeria's health ministry said.
The incident stirred a diplomatic row as Libya's interim council works to consolidate its authority and capture places still loyal to Gaddafi, notably the coastal city of Sirte.
Anti-Gaddafi forces have converged on Sirte from east and west, but have stopped short of an all-out assault in hopes of arranging a negotiated surrender of Gaddafi's birth-place.
"By Saturday, if there are no peaceful indications for implementing this, we will decide this matter militarily. We do not wish to do so but we cannot wait longer," Mustafa Abdel Jalil, head of Libya's interim council, told a news conference.
In Benghazi, headquarters of the anti-Gaddafi National Transtional Council during the uprising, military spokesman Colonel Ahmed Bani said the negotiations over Sirte involved tribal elders, not Gaddafi loyalists themselves.
The loyalists were thwarting the desire of most civilians to join the liberated areas, he said.
"Zero hour is quickly approaching," Bani said.
At forward positions of NTC forces, on the main coastal road some 100 km (60 miles) west of Sirte, a Reuters correspondent saw little sign of military action on Tuesday.
Six months of fighting has left some 50,000 dead, one anti-Gaddafi commander said, an estimate that was hard to verify and which, he said, included many people who had gone missing.
"About 50,000 people were killed since the start of the uprising," Colonel Hisham Buhagiar, commander of the anti-Gaddafi troops who advanced on Tripoli out of the Western Mountains, known as Jebel Nafusa, told Reuters.
"In Misrata and Zlitan between 15,000 and 17,000 were killed and Jebel Nafusa took a lot of casualties. We liberated about 28,000 prisoners. We presume that all those missing are dead," he said. "Then there was Ajdabiyah, Brega. Many people were killed there too."
Search for Gaddafi continues
Gaddafi's whereabouts have been unknown since his foes seized his Tripoli compound on Aug. 23, ending his 42-year rule after a six-month revolt backed by NATO and some Arab states.
Britain's Sky News, citing a young bodyguard of Gaddafi's son Khamis, said the leader had stayed in Tripoli until Friday when he left for the southern desert town of Sabha.
It quoted the captured 17-year-old as saying Gaddafi met Khamis, a feared military commander, at around 1:30 p.m. on Friday in a Tripoli compound that was under heavy rebel fire. Gaddafi had arrived by car and was soon joined by Aisha.
After a short meeting, they boarded four-wheel drive vehicles and left, the bodyguard told a Sky reporter, adding that his officer had told him: "They're going to Sabha."
Along with Sirte, Sabha is one of the main remaining bastions of pro-Gaddafi forces.
A NATO spokesman said the alliance, which has kept up a five-month bombing campaign, was targeting the city's approaches.
"Our main area of attention is a corridor... (leading up) to the eastern edge of Sirte," Colonel Roland Lavoie said.
Some anti-Gaddafi officers have reported that Khamis Gaddafi and former intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi were both killed in a clash on Saturday. This has not been confirmed and the NATO spokesman said he had no word on Khamis's fate.
More NTC forces were heading for Bani Walid, a Gaddafi tribal stronghold 150 km (95 miles) southeast of Tripoli.
"Three units were sent from Misrata toward Bani Walid this morning ... Our fighters are now 30 km from Bani Walid," said Mohammed Jamal, a fighter at a checkpoint on the road to the town. "Hopefully Bani Walid will also be liberated soon. Right now there are still many Gaddafi supporters there."
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