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Rebels lay siege to Libyan cities

Libya's opposition leader has said rebel forces will lay siege to cities loyal to Muammar Gaddafi until a deadline for their surrender expires next week.

The head of the rebels' National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, told reporters that his military forces are moving to surround Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte and the cities of Bani Walid, Jufra and Sabha, and will be poised to attack.

The comments come after the rebels extended to September 10 a deadline for those areas to give up peacefully or face assault. The previous deadline was Saturday and some rebels had claimed they would advance on the cities at that time.

"We are by the grace of God in a position of strength, capable of entering any city, to deploy any of our fighters in any direction," Abdul-Jalil said. "However, in our desire to avoid bloodshed and to avoid more destruction to public properties and national institutions, we have given an ultimatum of one week to the areas of Sirte, Bani Walid, Jufra and Sabha."

He also said the rebels were providing humanitarian aid to the besieged areas.

With the capital of Tripoli firmly in their hands, the rebels have threatened to assault Sirte and other pro-Gaddafi areas.

Gaddafi remains a fugitive and there have been conflicting reports about his whereabouts.

Gen Omar al-Hariri, a rebel military commander, suggested on Friday that Gaddafi might either be in a suburb of Tripoli or in the town of Bani Walid, 90 miles south-east of Tripoli. But he also acknowledged that the former Libyan leader probably has hideouts elsewhere.

"We are after him and we will find him," he said. "He called us rats, but he is the larger rat."

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