Libyan fighters on Saturday launched an offensive on Bani Walid, one of the last strongholds of forces loyal to Muammar Qaddafi, which a spokesman said they would overrun “within hours.”
“We are preparing to enter Bani Walid and we will fight,” Mahmud Abdel Aziz, a local spokesman for the National Transitional Council, told an AFP at a checkpoint in Shishan, dozens of kilometers (miles) north of Bani Walid.
His comments come just hours after another commander said Bani Walid had until 0800 GMT on Sunday to surrender.
An AFP correspondent saw a dozen vehicles, including pick-ups mounted with heavy machine guns, heading further south towards Bani Walid.
A few hours earlier Abdel Aziz said he expected Bani Walid to “fall within hours.”
“Today, tonight, or tomorrow morning, in a few hours we will take Bani Walid,” he said. "People there have asked for more time but our patience has worn out."
Earlier, the deputy chief of the military council of the town of Tarhuna said fighters for Libya’s new leaders have given forces in Bani Walid until 0800 GMT Sunday to surrender.
Abdulrazzak Naduri said that Kadhafi’s son Saadi was still in Bani Walid, along with other regime cronies, while prominent son Seif al-Islam had fled the town.
“The revolutionaries have given an ultimatum to the tribal chiefs in Bani Walid,” Naduri told AFP in Tarhuna, some 80 kilometres (50 miles) north of Bani Walid.
“Either they raise the white flag of surrender or the fighting begins.”
However the head of the National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, said in Benghazi that a truce declared until September 10 was still in force.
Naduri said Saadi Kadhafi, the toppled strongman’s spokesman Mussa Ibrahim, and Mansur Dau, head of the revolutionary committees that propped up Kadhafi’s regime, were still in Bani Walid.
But Seif al-Islam, the regime’s most prominent face and vocal interlocutor, had fled two days ago, he said. “God alone knows which road he took,” he added.
Abdel Jalil, leader of the provisional administration set up to take over power from the defeated Qaddafi, told a news conference, “We are in a position of strength to enter any city but we want to avoid any bloodshed, especially in sensitive areas such as tribal areas.
“We gave Sirte, Bani Walid... and Sabha one more week.
“This extension does not mean we are unaware of Kadhafi’s danger,” Abdel Jalil said. “Our forces will move militarily until the end of this extension.”
Qaddafi is quickly losing fighters, with many of his new recruits simply handing over their weapons to his foes, a military commander of the new leadership said Saturday.
Abdelhakim Belhaj, head of the Tripoli military council, said earlier that a civilian group ventured into Bani Walid, the Qaddafi stronghold closest to the capital, on Thursday.
They found many of the checkpoints of the city undefended with most guards abandoning their posts in what Belhaj described as a “surprising move.”
“We can now say that Bani Walid is open,” he said.
Bani Walid is the stronghold of one of Libya’s most powerful tribes, the Warfalla which is almost one-million strong.