Libyan rebels said on Monday they had seized a second strategic town near the capital, Tripoli.
The rebels’ latest capture completes the encirclement of the capital in the boldest advances of the rebels’ uprising against Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.
According to a report by the Reuters news agency, Qaddafi made a barely audible telephone call to state television overnight in which he called on his followers to fight the rebels, to whom he referred as “rats.”
The latest city to be captured by the rebels is Gharyan, located south of Tripoli. While their claim could not be immediately verified, if true it would cut off the other main route to the capital.
“Garyan is fully in the hands of the revolutionaries,” a rebel spokesman told Reuters in a telephone conversation. “Qaddafi has been isolated. He has been cut off from the outside world.”
A spokesman for the Libyan government, meanwhile, acknowledged in remarks broadcast on state television that rebel fighters were in Gharyan.
“There are still armed gangs inside the city. We are able to drive them out,” he was quoted by Reuters as having said.
Earlier on Monday, it was reported that the rebels had seized part of the key western coastal town of Zawiya.
Also on Monday, it was reported that Qaddafi’s interior minister had flown to Cairo with nine family members in the latest apparent defection from Qaddafi’s government.
Egyptian officials said Libyan Interior Minister Nassr al-Mabrouk Abdullah and his relatives arrived in Egypt early Monday on a private jet from the Tunisian resort island of Djerba.