Citing unnamed “Libyan and Arab sources,” the pan-Arabic newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat on Aug. 17 reported that Moammar Qaddafi has sent one of his closest advisers, Bashir Saleh, to Mali and the Tunisian island of Djerba, to meet with British and French officials to discuss “securing a safe exit for Qaddafi and his family from Libya.” Saleh reportedly met in secret with officials from the British Foreign Office and the French Presidency, in an effort to negotiate terms for the besieged strongman’s exile.
NBC aired similar claims the next day, citing unnamed “US officials” as saying that Qaddafi “is making preparations for a departure from Libya with his family for possible exile in Tunisia.” One official purportedly said Qaddafi would leave “within days.” NBC notes that the claims follow a series of optimistic statements this week from US officials. In an on-camera forum at the National Defense University, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said, “I think the sense is that Qaddafi’s days are numbered.”
The National of the UAE reports claims by Libya’s rebel alliance that after two days of fighting rebel forces have taken the strategic oil refinery city of Zawiya, with Qaddafi-loyalist forces reduced to a small pocket. The refinery itself is said to be in rebel hands.