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Libyan Rebels Give Ultimatum to Loyalists; Give Up By Saturday or Face War

Are we close to a Libyan-Algerian war? Or just a continuation of the Libyan civil war?

It’s hard to say. Algeria certainly isn’t backing down after they sheltered members of Moammar Gadhafi’s family. Their UN envoy said the Algerians were merely following “the holy rule of hospitality.” Yesterday, a member of the Transitional National Council called the harboring of the Gadhafi family an “aggressive action,” and that they would seek the return of the family through “all legal means,” so they can face trial. It turns out there was a nominal reason for the family members to retreat: Gadhafi only biological daughter gave birth in Algeria.

While the rebels are only considering legal means to compel the extradition of the family members, and softening their rhetoric over the past day, that situation certainly could escalate. As for the fighting that still grips scattered pockets of Libya, the rebels have given an ultimatum to the remaining regime loyalist fighters.

Libya’s interim leaders have given pro-Gaddafi forces until Saturday to surrender or face military force.

Mustafa Abdul Jalil, who leads the National Transitional Council (NTC), said the ultimatum applied to loyalists of Col Muammar Gaddafi in his hometown of Sirte and in other towns […]

Speaking at a news conference in Benghazi, Mr Jalil said that if there was no “peaceful indication” by Saturday that Gaddafi-loyalists intended to surrender, “we will decide this manner militarily”.

“We do not wish to do so but we cannot wait longer,” he said.

I agree with BBC’s Jeremy Bowen that this is a very unattractive option for the rebels. Wrapping this up with an apocalyptic battle in Sirte will not project an image of unity. And there are near-term catastrophes that demand attention. Apparently the main water source in Tripoli and other major cities is still in the hands of Gadhafi loyalists, and as a result water supplies are dwindling. This appears to be the last leverage for the loyalists, and perhaps they’re holding back the water while trying to negotiate a settlement that avoids a military conflagration. Actually that’s the hope, because the alternative, that they refuse to give up the water supply under any circumstances, means that war will continue and as many will die of dehydration as wounds from battle.

50,000 Libyans have died since the beginning of the civil war in March, according to the Transitional National Council. And many more could die in the coming days. There are ongoing negotiations between the rebels and tribal leaders in Sirte and other Gadhafi strongholds. Smaller villages have come to an accommodation. We can hope the same will be true of Sirte. Political leadership will be needed and it’s not clear the rebels have that stature.

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David Dayen

David Dayen