TRIPOLI — Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi has ruled out talks with rebels fighting to end his four-decade rule, insisting the loyalist cause will triumph even as the rebels said they had infiltrated the capital.
In a speech aired by state television late on Thursday, Kadhafi said the rebels' five-month-old uprising was a "lost cause" even as they boasted gains on the front line between the rebel-held east and mainly government-held west.
"The battle has been decided. It has been decided in favour of the masses and the people," Kadhafi said.
"They cannot defeat us. They will be defeated and they will go home empty-handed," he added.
"I will not talk to them. There will be no negotiations between me and them," he said, adding they "must understand that their desperate fight is a lost cause."
In a second speech aired by the television, Kadhafi called on tribal leaders from Libya's third-largest city Misrata, one of two rebel-held enclaves in the west, to "march on the city to liberate it."
But an AFP correspondent who was among a group of foreign journalists taken on an escorted tour of Zliten, the last government-held town on the coastal road between Tripoli and Misrata, reported loud explosions on Thursday on the front line just to the east.
Columns of smoke were clearly visible from the town, which lies 40 kilometres (25 miles) west of Misrata on the road to the capital.
In the town's hospital, journalists were shown around four wards in which a dozen people were receiving treatment for injuries they said they had sustained in NATO-led air strikes targeting loyalist positions.
A hospital manager told the reporters they could not go into other wards as they were reserved for women, but a steady flow of soldiers was seen going in and out, some of them wounded.
One member of the medical staff, Fraj Jamal, claimed a full 80 civilians had been wounded in NATO-led strikes on Thursday.
NATO said that aircraft under its command hit 11 targets in and around Zliten, including a surface-to-air missile launcher, a multiple rocket launcher and a tank.
A military storage facility near the oil refinery town of Brega on the front line between east and west was also hit, as well as eight targets in and around Tripoli.
The rebels said they had infiltrated armed and trained operatives into the capital to conduct missions against loyalist targets.
"There are small groups, they are good fighters, trained in Benghazi," commander Fawzi Bukatif told reporters in the rebels' eastern bastion late on Thursday.
"We have supplied them with weapons and grenades."
Since the revolution began in February a number of Tripoli-based groups have broadcast videos purporting to show acts of civil disobedience in the heavily controlled capital.
But the revelation that armed rebel fighters have infiltrated Kadhafi's stronghold raises the spectre of more serious acts of sabotage.
On Thursday, unconfirmed rumours swirled that rebels operating in Tripoli had tried to assassinate senior members of the Kadhafi regime earlier in the day.
Bukatif said he had no knowledge of any such operation but added: "We expect things like that to happen."
His comments turn the table on months of worry about a Kadhafi fifth column operating in the rebel-controlled east.
Several undetonated explosive devices have been found in Benghazi in the past few months, including a pick-up truck loaded with Semtex that failed to explode outside a busy hotel.
Another failed car bomb earlier targeted a senior member of the rebels' National Transitional Council, according to one well-placed security official.
The rebels say they have chased the bulk of Kadhafi's forces from Brega and are poised for advances towards the capital from Misrata and their other western enclave in the Nafusa Mountains, southwest of Tripoli.
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