| A deadly clash broke out in Libya’s rebel capital of Benghazi in the wake of the murder of their military chief, as the Gaddafi regime said Sunday it was in contact with rebel leadership members.
Four rebels were killed in the clash with a pro- Gaddafi group in Benghazi overnight, a rebel spokesman said.
“It was a long battle and it took many hours because they were heavily armed,” Mahmud Shamman said. “In the end we arrested 31 of them. We lost four people.”
He added the group, which suffered “about 20 casualties,” was rounded up for its role in organizing a prison break in Benghazi earlier in the week.
Rebel forces had surrounded the camp of the group linked to Libyan leader Moamer Gaddafi after they refused to obey an order from the rebels’ National Transitional Council (NTC) for all militias to disband and lay down their arms.
The clash follows last week’s assassination of rebel military chief General Abdel Fatah Yunis, whose death remains cloaked in mystery. The general was a right-hand man to Gaddafi before his defection to the rebel ranks.
While the rebels tried to quash rumors about the mysterious death of their army chief, the Gaddafi regime said it was in contact with members of the NTC.
“There are contacts with Mahmud Jibril (number two in the NTC), and (Ali) Essawy (in charge of external relations), (religious leader Ali) Sallabi and others,” deputy foreign minister Khaled Kaaim told a Tripoli news conference.
Gaddafi on Saturday night renewed his pledge “never to abandon” the battle, in an audio tape broadcast on state television despite NATO air strikes earlier the same day on the broadcaster’s headquarters in Tripoli.
The rebels, who have frequently denied having had any direct negotiations with Tripoli, sought to stamp out rumors by giving details on Yunis’s killing and bringing all militias under the control of the NTC interior ministry.
Meanwhile, the Benghazi villa of the murdered general was surrounded by checkpoints early on Sunday and no traffic allowed on the coastal city’s main highway.
South of Benghazi, rebels reported an attack by pro- Gaddafi forces on the southern oasis town of Jalo, but said it had been repulsed.
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