At least two sons of Col. Muammar el-Gaddafi are proposing a resolution to the Libyan conflict that would entail pushing their father aside to make way for a transition to a constitutional democracy under the direction of his son Seif al-Islam el-Gaddafi, a diplomat and a Libyan official briefed on the plan said Sunday.
The rebels challenging Colonel Gaddafi as well as the American and European powers supporting them with air strikes have so far insisted on a more radical break with his 40 years of rule. And it is not clear whether Colonel Gaddafi, 68, has signed on to the reported proposal backed by his sons, Seif and Saadi el-Gaddafi, although one person close to the sons said the father appeared willing to go along.
But the proposal offers a new window into the dynamics of the Gaddafi family at a time when the colonel, who has seven sons, is relying heavily on them. Stripped of one of his closest confidantes by the defection of Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa and isolated by decades of attempted coups and internal purges, he is leaning on his sons as trusted aides and military commanders.
The idea also touches on longstanding differences among his sons. While Seif and Saadi have leaned toward Western-style economic and political openings, Colonel Gaddafi’s sons Khamis and Mutuassim are considered hard-liners. Khamis leads a fearsome militia focused on repressing internal unrest.
And Mutuassim, a national security adviser who also commands his own militia, has been considered a rival to Seif in the competition to succeed their father. But Saadi, who has drifted through careers as a professional soccer player, a military officer and a businessman, firmly backs the plan, an associate said.
The two sons “want to move toward change for the country” without their father, one person close to the Seif and Saadi camp said Sunday, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. “They have hit so many brick walls with the old guard, and if they have the go-ahead, they will bring the country up quickly.” One son, this person said, has said many times that “the wishes of the rebellion were his own.”
The proposals are the latest turn in a drama between Seif and his father that has played out for years on the stage of Libyan public life as the son has alternately pushed forward with calls for political reforms and then pulled back. During the recent revolt, he appeared to march in lockstep with his father in vowing to stamp out the rebels. “We are coming,” he declared to a crowd of supporters who chanted, “Seif al-Islam, step on the rats.”
The proposals are also the latest sign that the Gaddafi government may be feeling the pressure from two weeks of allied airstrikes that have severely diminished the advantage in equipment of the Gaddafi militias. A senior Libyan official arrived in Athens for talks about a potential resolution to the conflict, the Reuters news service reported. And Mohamed Ismail, a top aide to Seif, is returning from a trip to London, where, a Libyan official said, he presented the proposal for Seif to take over from his father.
Mutuassim may be particularly resistant because of his longstanding rivalry with Seif.
After Seif made a high-profile trip to Washington to meet with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2008, a WikiLeaks cable reported, the attention paid “exacerbated tension with his siblings.”
When Mutuassim visited Washington the next year, the American ambassador to Libya wrote, “Mutuassim’s desire to visit Washington this spring and his seemingly overweening focus on having meetings with senior U.S. government officials and signing a number of agreements are driven at least in part by a strong sense of competition with Saif al-Islam.”
In a recent interview with the pan-Arab news channel Al-Arabiya, Saadi suggested that before the revolt Seif was already “the person who used to run the show every day in Libya.” The defection last week of Mr. Koussa, the former top aide to Colonel Gaddafi, removes a figure who had been considered a leader of the old guard distrustful of Seif and opposed to reform.
A diplomat familiar with the proposal, however, said discussions remained in the initial stages. Despite the evidence of deep internal discontent, Colonel Gaddafi appears to believe that rebellion against him is a foreign conspiracy of Islamist radicals and oil-hungry Western powers attempting to take over Libya, the diplomat said. And the rebels, who have set up their own provisional government, continue to insist on the exit from power of Colonel Gaddafi and his sons.
“This is the beginning position of the opposition, and this is the beginning position of the Libyan government,” this diplomat said. “But the bargaining has yet to commence.”
Militarily, the rebellion remained locked in a stalemate on Sunday. On the eastern front, near the oil town of Brega, the two sides fired rockets, mortars and artillery against each other in a contest for the northern entrance of town. But the battle lines changed only slightly, and neither side appeared to have a clear upper hand.
The fighting intensified in the late afternoon and evening during a three-hour exchange in which rebels launched salvo after salvo of rockets toward the town, and loyalist artillery or mortars replied. The shells landed and exploded across an expanse of desert north of the town.
At least two rebels were killed and others wounded. The fight for Brega continued at the university, where the rebels, who have at times since Friday managed to gain a toehold, withdrew under fire. But the main body of rebels crept closer to the town, and seized two ridges that provided a vantage point for firing on the loyalists holding the town.
At the hospital in Ajdabiya, where casualties are first taken, a team of doctors rushed to help a wounded government soldier who had been shot through the left calf, the right arm, and twice through his right chest and out his back. The soldier, whose documents listed him as Akhmed Awad Omar, from Surt, died on the table, his blood pooled on the floor.
The attendants covered him with a cloth. “He is a Libyan, and we are sorry for him,” said Dr. Habib Mohammed el-Obeidy, before the body was wheeled to the morgue. “Gaddafi is using Libyans against Libyans.”
In Tripoli, armed checkpoints throughout the streets have kept the capital in an anxious lockdown with no signs of any renewed uprising since the revolt that shook the city six weeks ago. Noting that the United Nations resolution authorizing the air strikes also precludes the deployment of ground troops, the diplomat familiar with the proposal backed by the two sons said he wondered how the fighting could end without a negotiated solution.
“They will continue until the ammunition is finished, this stupid fighting along the highway,” the diplomat said.
Proposals and counterproposals for a cease-fire exchanged between the Gaddafi forces and the rebels appeared deadlocked as well, the diplomat noted. “For Gaddafi a cease-fire means everyone should cease firing but the Gaddafi forces should stay where they are,” the diplomat said. “But for the rebels it means that the Gaddafi forces should withdraw.”
Rebels said Sunday that the Western airstrikes had begun hitting the heavy weapons of the Gaddafi forces even within cities. A spokesman for the rebels controlling the besieged city of Misurata said that on Friday night the airstrikes had hit two tanks and three armored vehicles of the Gaddafi forces that had entered the city.
But on Sunday morning Gaddafi forces outside the city continued shelling an area near the port, while Gaddafi gunmen occupied rooftops along the central Tripoli Street, said the spokesman, Mohamed, whose last name was withheld for the protection of his family.
In an interview in Tripoli, Levent Sahinkaya, the Turkish ambassador, said a Turkish hospital ship had left the Misurata port loaded with 250 patients seriously injured in the fighting. The Gaddafi government had sought to direct the ship first to Tripoli or to postpone its trip, Mr. Sahinkaya said, but instead the Turkish government sent it directly to Misurata with the escort of 10 F-16 fighters and a warship.
“The humanitarian side is so important to us,” the ambassador said.
“We are the only country able to speak with both sides,” he said, referring to both the rebels and the Gaddafi government.
“We think a cease-fire should be reached, and after a cease-fire a political solution can be discussed,” Mr. Sahinkaya said. “This is the Turkish position.” He declined to address the details of any cease-fire talks.
About 50 foreign embassies remain open in Tripoli, including those of Turkey, Russia, Bulgaria, Ukraine and China as well as sub-Saharan African countries.