Tripoli: US military chief Admiral Mike Mullen said on Thursday that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was increasingly isolated as Russia said it would send an envoy to Tripoli and Benghazi to mediate in the conflict.
The United Nations, meanwhile, denounced war crimes committed both by Gaddafi’s forces and the rebels vying to oust the Libyan strongman.
“There are from my perspective some signs, certainly in the last few days, that Gaddafi is becoming more and more isolated,” Mullen told reporters in Washington.
He pointed to the defection of oil minister Shukri Ghanem, who had been a key figure in the regime, along with a group of “young generals” who had also parted with Gaddafi.
Mullen also welcomed NATO’s extension of its UN-mandated mission to protect civilians through military action until late September.
“I think from my perspective, and I’ve engaged with the commanders on this, that we’re going to be okay until September,” he said.
A correspondent said that overnight a series of blasts shook the Libyan capital, the target of intensive NATO air raids in the past few weeks.
In its latest operational update, NATO said its jets had bombed a vehicle store and surface-to-air missile launcher in the vicinity of Tripoli.
Earlier, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters that Gaddafi’s departure was only a question of time.
“The question is not if Gaddafi will go but when,” Rasmussen said. “It could take some time yet but it could also happen tomorrow.”
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Moscow will be sending an envoy to Tripoli and the rebels’ capital of Benghazi to mediate, the Italian news agency ANSA reported, quoting diplomats.
Medvedev stressed the importance of a negotiated settlement at talks with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in Rome.
“We would like as much as possible for the problem to be resolved through negotiations and not by military means,” Medvedev told reporters.
Russia has enjoyed close ties with Gaddafi’s regime and abstained from the UN Security Council vote in March that gave the go-ahead for international military action in Libya.
But it has increasingly distanced itself from the regime and at a G8 summit in France last week Medvedev pledged to ramp up diplomatic efforts to end the conflict.
A commission of inquiry set up by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva accused Gaddafi’s regime of carrying out systematic attacks on the population, charging it committed not only crimes against humanity but also war crimes.
The commission said it “reached the conclusion that crimes against humanity and war crimes have been committed by the government forces of Libya”.
The investigative body noted it had received “fewer reports” of abuses by opposition forces but said it “did find some acts which would constitute war crimes”.
In Benghazi, vice president of the rebel National Transitional Council Abdelhafiz Ghoga admitted that rebels had committed “violations, twice” as rebels feared terrorist acts by pro-Gaddafi forces in the rebel bastion.
“We feared a fifth column was operating in the city,” he said, adding that rebel forces “are trying to treat prisoners according to the Geneva convention”.
Ghoga also announced that rebel forces had detained three suspects in a car bombing that rocked Benghazi on Wednesday but caused no casualties.
“We captured three of the culprits behind the car bomb attack, we are looking for the others,” Ghoga said.
Libya’s rebel council earlier blamed Gaddafi’s forces for the “terrorist attack” that hit the Tibesti hotel, where rebel leaders, journalists and diplomats stay.
Off the Tunisian coast, up to 270 migrants were missing after a ship packed with refugees fleeing Libya and headed for Italy capsized, authorities said.
Army and coastguard teams lifted 570 people off the overcrowded vessel after it ran aground and capsized near Tunisia’s Kerkennah islands on Wednesday.
But between 200 and 270 were still missing after they tried to scramble aboard a flotilla of rescue boats, the official TAP news agency said. Agencies