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Libyan Opposition Leader Predicts Capture of Gadhafi Stronghold

Libyan rebels gesture as they pass the oil refinery in the outskirts of Ras Lanouf, eastern Libya, Sunday, March 27, 2011. Libyan rebels took back a key oil town and pushed westward Sunday toward the capital, seizing momentum from the international airst

The leader of the opposition Justice and Democracy Party of Libya says rebels fighting against the administration will soon take over Sirte, a stronghold of forces loyal to leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Hadi Shalluf, who is also an international lawyer, says opposition groups are against all forms of negotiated settlement with Gadhafi and his family aimed at resolving the ongoing crisis in Libya.

“There is no real resistance now from the Gadhafi troops and, already in Ben Jawad, there are no Gadhafi soldiers or mercenaries; all of them escaped into the desert. For that we are thinking that Sirte will be easy now [with] the airstrikes from the United States and allies,” said Shalluf.

He also says the ongoing airstrikes are aiding the rebels’ effort to soon takeover Sirte, despite being a Gadhafi stronghold.

“Of course, they are very strong, but they don’t really have any morale. They are already losing courage to fight the (rebels) because most of them escaped from Ben Jawad. So, I think they will be leaving Sirte because they fear they will be bombarded and the rebels will take over. So, even if they are strong now, they don’t have any motivation to fight for the Gadhafi regime,” said Shalluf.

Shalluf says international airstrikes are, in his words, a demoralizing factor for the forces loyal to Gadhafi at the same time a significant boost for the rebels seeking to force the embattled leader to step down.

Libyan rebels pushed farther west Sunday, just one day after seizing two key towns following a week of coalition airstrikes that have forced pro-government troops to retreat.

The rebels said they recaptured the eastern oil port of Brega Saturday hours after retaking the nearby town of Ajdabiya. They said Gadhafi forces have been driven out of both areas. Rebels had lost control of Ajdabiya more than a week ago, but a barrage of coalition airstrikes against pro-government forces allowed them to reclaim the town.

Shalluf says the airstrikes could force the embattled Libyan leader to step down.

“The people and Gadhafi’s soldiers think it is over. So, that is why they have been escaping and not fighting the revolution troops. He may be strong in Tripoli, but he has not contacts with his troops outside of Tripoli because he has logistic problems now and the airstrikes are making them weak,” said Shalluf.

Witnesses reported seeing the bodies of more than a dozen government soldiers in Ajdabiya, about 160 kilometers south of the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

Meanwhile, France's military says its warplanes destroyed five Libyan planes and two helicopters in Misrata, a rebel-held town east of Tripoli. Coalition jets also carried out attacks near Tripoli.

Saturday's developments came a day after Libyan officials announced plans to pursue diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis. There have been no reports of progress since the announcement.