Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – A senior member of the Libyan National Transitional Council [NTC], Khairallah Mahmoud, told Asharq Al-Awsat that Turkey’s recognition of the NTC represents “a serious blow to the Gaddafi regime” which has been battling a revolution since 17 February. Mahmoud stressed that Turkey’s recognition of the Libyan revolution, and its announcement that it would provide material support to the rebels, in addition to Ankara withdrawing its ambassador from Tripoli, will serve to strengthen the resolve of the Libyan rebels, whilst inciting division within the Gaddafi ranks.
During a press conference held in rebel stronghold Benghazi on Sunday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced that Turkey was committed to the initiative it had previously put forward to resolve the crisis in Libya, which included an immediate cease-fire, and Colonel Gaddafi stepping down from power. In this regard, Ankara announced that it was cutting diplomatic ties with the Gaddafi regime, calling back its ambassador from Tripoli. In a speech addressing the Libyan rebels in Benghazi, Davutoglu was greeted by loud applause and began by saying “I salute you all, the sons of Omar Mukhtar” in a reference to the Libyan freedom fighter and national hero. He added “I have brought you greetings from the Turkish people…we have a common history and a common future. The future of Libya will be even stronger than today.”
NTC senior member Khairallah Mahmoud, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat by phone from within Libya, met with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu during his visit to Libya. Mahmoud informed Asharq Al-Awsat that Davutoglu had told him that he was saddened by the situation in Libya and “Turkey not recognizing the NTC from the beginning [of the uprising].” He added that Davutoglu informed him that he had not been aware of the extent of the suffering of the Libyan people over 40 years of Gaddafi rule.
Mahmoud also revealed that the NTC is currently headquartered at the Central Bank of Benghazi, which will decide how to spend the money and financial aid being granted to the Libyan people and rebels.
This comes at the same time as Saif al-Islam Gaddafi told a French newspaper that his father, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, would not step down, and that the pro-Gaddafi forces will “fight and win.” In a combative interview with the French newspaper La Monde, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi stressed that “my father is not part of the negotiations. You think one can find a solution that does not involve him? No, it’s impossible!” He added that “God is with us. We will fight and we will win. We have our army. We have more munitions, more weapons. Morale is high. The others [Libyan rebels] are becoming weaker and weaker.”
Commenting on these statements, senior member of the NTC, Khairallah Mahmoud told Asharq Al-Awsat that Gaddafi’s position is “weak”, and his presence or absence [from the negotiations] would not affect the rebels march on Tripoli. He also stressed that should the Libyans rebels capture Colonel Gaddafi, they intend to bring him to trial in a revolutionary court, whilst if he is captured by the NATO forces, then he would – no doubt – be handed over to the International Criminal Court [ICC].
As for the statement made by NTC Chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil to Reuters news agency regarding the possibility of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi being allowed to remain in the country should he step down from power, Mahmoud stressed that Abdul Jalil was referring to an out-of-date proposal made before the ICC issued an arrest warrant for the Libyan leader.
The NTC also later issued a clarification, with Mustafa Abdul Jalil stressing that “I would like to confirm that there is absolutely no current or future possibility for Gaddafi to remain in Libya…there is no escape clause for Gaddafi – he must be removed from power and face justice.”
Khairallah Mahmoud also informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the Libyan rebels’ progress in Brega was being halted by Gaddafi forces taking refugee in petrol stations and banks, but he added that “they are being attacked by reconnaissance rebel forces…and we have captured dozens of them.” He added that “the clashes resulted in 18 killed
and 50 wounded amongst the Gaddafi forces, whilst 3 rebels have been martyred and dozens injured.”
He added that NATO forces had targeted heavy weaponry belonging to Colonel Gaddafi in the Brega region yesterday, prompting the rebels to advance and seize territory and weaponry previously under Gaddafi control.
As for the Libyan official reports claiming division between the eastern and western Libyan tribes, Mahmoud stressed that this was lies and propaganda, adding that there is no truth to the claim that all the people in western Libya support Gaddafi.