Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's son has said forces loyal to his father are nearing the rebel stronghold of Benghazi in the country's east and predicted an uprising against the regime would be crushed within the next two days.

Saif al-Islam told France-based TV channel Euronews on Wednesday: "The military operations are finished. In 48 hours everything will be over. Our forces are close to Benghazi. Whatever decision is taken, it will be too late."

He was responding to questions about talks among world powers to impose a no-fly zone over Libya, a move endorsed by the 22-member Arab League last week in Cairo and backed by the United States.

The interview was given as Gaddafi's forces launched a major attack on the rebel-held city of Misurata, killing at least five people, medical sources said.

There was no immediate comment from the rebels' side following al-Islam's comments.

But the rebels fought back against Gaddafi's troops around the eastern town of Ajdabiyah on Wednesday, hampering their push towards Benghazi.

Government forces captured Ajdabiyah, 150km south of Benghazi on the Gulf of Sirte, on Tuesday after most of its rebel defenders retreated from a heavy artillery barrage.

The fighting raged as the UN Security Council discussed a resolution seeking to impose a no-fly zone over Libya in a bid to stop Gaddafi's fighter jets from targeting civilians.

Contentious issues

Al Jazeera's Scott Heidler, reporting from New York, said it would take the 15-member council sometime to conclude debate on the resolution.

"There're certain paragraphs - certain points within this draft resolution - that are going to be stickier that others, if you will," he said.

"And that's specifically when it comes to the no-fly zone; how it is going to be implemented. There's is a term 'by all means necessary'. That's quite ambiguous and also it can have a lot of military implications. That's mostly likely going to be one of those paragraphs that's going to take some time to get through."

 

Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary-general, urged all sides to accept an immediate cease-fire and warned that "a campaign to bombard such an urban centre [Benghazi] would massively place civilian lives at risk".

Ban said he was gravely concerned about the increasing military escalation by government forces, which include indications of an assault on Benghazi.

He urged all parties in the conflict to accept an immediate cease fire and to abide by Security Council Resolution 1970. 

"Those responsible for the continuous use of military forces against civilians will be held accountable," he said.

In wednesday's fighting, one rebel officer said Ajdabiya had been lost and the fighters who remained had handed over their weapons.    

Mustafa Gheriani told the Reuters news agency by telephone that they were holding Ajdabiyah.

"But the fighting is fierce ... We've got some surprises in store. We're going to fight on and we're going to win," he said.

Al Jazeera's Anita McNaught, reporting from Tripoli, said Gaddafi and his son have been confident of reversing the rebels' gains.

"There has always been confidence coming out of Col Gaddafi's mouth and out of the mouth of his son Saif al-Islam. Back - maybe more than three weeks ago - there was a little uncertainty because they were taken by surprise, I think, by the degree and speed of the uprising against them," she said.

"But as they had a chance to get a measure of what the rebels were able to put up in terms of a fight  ... they have grown increasingly certain of how they could proceed to regain the territory they lost and how they could move against them [rebels]." 

Al Jazeera's Tony Birtley, reporting from Benghazi, said the rebels would put up stiff resistance.

"I don't think there's too much nervousness, and I don't think people believe the threat at the moment appears to be real and looming," he said, adding that Benghazi would be a "whole different kind of target".

"This is a huge city [with] a population of over 800,000 and the people here basically have been flying the flag of the rebellion from the very beginning.

"They know they have a lot to lose, so they're going to fight this every inch of the way, and street fighting would be potentially costly for Gaddafi's forces. We don't think he is that strong in terms of numbers ... There's a long way to go before Benghazi falls."

'Force against Gaddafi'

A meeting of Group of Eight foreign ministers in Paris this week failed to get the agreement France was hoping for to support a no-fly zone being imposed over Libya.

But Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said on Wednesday she hoped the council would vote on a new package of measures against Libya as early as Thursday.

"We are moving as rapidly as we can in New York to see whether we can get additional authorization for the international community to look at a broad range of actions, not just a no-fly zone but other actions as well," Clinton told the travelling press on a visit to Cairo.

"We won't know until there is an actual vote. We're hoping that will be no later than tomorrow [Thursday]," she added.

"And then we'll see what that message means to Gaddafi and his regime, and what it means in terms of support and encouragement to the opposition."

Britain's UN ambassador, Mark Lyall Grant, said council members would discuss the proposed resolution "paragraph by paragraph" because members had "a number of questions about the text".

Colombia's ambassador, Nestor Osorio, said his country "very much supported" efforts to halt violence against Libyan civilians, but still had questions about the details of a possible no-fly zone.

Other ambassadors said issues to be clarified included whether the ban would apply to all flights countrywide, and what countries would contribute planes and other assets to enforce it.

Pro-Gaddafi troops have been battling rebels in several cities across the Libyan coastline, using machine guns and by airpower to halt the rebels' advance on key cities in the country's west.

The rebellion, which began last month in the relatively poor city of Benghazi, followed an Egypt-style uprising against Gaddafi, in power since 1969, and has seen hundreds of civilians killed, some by air force planes.

In an article for Aljazeera, US Senator John Kerry said concrete steps were needed for the immediate implementation of a no-fly zone.

"My fear is that he is either choosing to bleed the opposition to death, rather than invite global action with a broad massacre, or waiting for the world to prove itself unwilling to act - at which point he might well begin killing civilians in large numbers," Kerry said.

Aljazeera.net/english

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