Libyan rebels say military chief killed

NALUT/BENGHAZI, Libya,  (Reuters) – Libya’s rebels  say their military chief was shot dead in an incident that  remains shrouded in mystery and may point to deep divisions  within the movement trying to oust Muammar Gaddafi.

Abdel Fattah Younes

The killing, announced late yesterday, came as the rebels  launched an offensive in the west and won further international  recognition, which they hope to translate into access to billions of dollars in frozen funds.

The rebels said Abdel Fattah Younes, who was for years at  the heart of the Gaddafi government before defecting to become  the military leader in the rebel Transitional National Council  (TNC) in February, was shot dead by assailants after being  summoned back from the battlefield.

After a day of rumours, rebel leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil  said Younes and two bodyguards had been killed before he could  make a requested appearance before a rebel judicial committee  investigating military issues.

It was not clear where the attack took place. Adding to the  confusion, Jalil said the bodies were yet to be found.

Younes was not trusted by all of the rebel leadership due to  his previous role in cracking down on dissidents.

But his death is likely to be a severe blow to a movement  that has won the backing of some 30 nations but is labouring to  make progress on the battlefield.

“A lot of the members of the TNC were Gaddafi loyalists for  a very long time. They were in his inner circle and joined the  TNC at a later stage,” said Geoff Porter from North Africa Risk  Consulting.

“(The killing) is indicative of schisms that have been  appearing within the TNC over the last few months … We might  be seeing the most egregious examples of the divisions between  the former regime members and the original rebels,” he added.

The rebels claimed to have seized several towns in the  Western Mountains on Thursday but are yet to make a serious  breakthrough. With prospects fading of a swift negotiated  settlement, both sides seem prepared for the five-month civil  war to grind on into the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in August.

A rebel official said no deal was worth talking about unless  it meant Gaddafi and his powerful sons left Libya, while the  veteran leader vowed to fight on “until victory, until  martyrdom”.

Soon after Jalil’s announcement, gunmen entered the grounds  of the hotel where he was speaking and fired shots in the air, a  Reuters reporter said. No one was hurt.

At least four explosions rocked the centre of Tripoli on  Thursday evening as airplanes were heard overhead. The city has  come under frequent NATO bombing since Western nations  intervened on the side of the rebels in March under a United  Nations mandate to prevent Gaddafi’s forces from killing  civilians.

The killing of Younes, who was involved in the 1969 coup  that brought Gaddafi to power and then became his interior  minister, came after the rebels attacked Ghezaia, a town near  the Tunisian border held by Gaddafi throughout the war.

By late afternoon, the rebels said they had taken control of  the town, from which Gaddafi forces had controlled an area of  the plains below the mountains.

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