Moammar Gadhafi may be on the brink of stepping down with his regime short of cash, fuel, food and munitions and facing rebels who are only being held back by NATO commanders opposed to a bloody street battle in Tripoli, according to French officials and rebel fighters.
"A political solution ... is beginning to take shape," French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said.
The broader Western and Arab alliance and the Libyan rebels have applied a concerted chokehold on the Gadhafi regime aimed at expediting the desperate dictator's demise and departure.
NATO warplanes have targeted fuel depots in eastern Libya in recent days, while the rebel army in the western Nafusa mountains has cut off one of the last remaining oil pipelines that had been controlled by Gadhafi forces.
Western powers and key Arab states have seized Gadhafi's money and NATO has degraded his weapons and munitions. Only a handful of African states remain allied to Gadhafi, but none are in a position to re-arm the Libyan dictator. South Africa may be willing to take Gadhafi, but there is the matter of his arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
"The Libyan regime sent its messengers all over, to Turkey, to New York, to Paris." said French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe. "We received emissaries who are saying, 'Gadhafi is prepared to leave. Let's discuss it.'"
The United States remained cautious, noting this is not the first time that Gadhafi has been believed to be ready to capitulate.
"We have a lot of folks claiming to be representatives of Gaddafi one way or the other reaching out to lots of other folks in the West," said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. "But the messages are contradictory."
Libyan rebel brigades out of Misurata to the east of Tripoli, as well as the French-armed opposition force in the Nafusa mountains, have complained that NATO refuses to let them march toward Tripoli.
The rebels claim NATO has told them the alliance is against urban warfare in Tripoli because innocent civilians will be hurt -- and that runs contrary to the reason why the U.S., France and Britain led the initial air campaign: To protect innocent Libyans.
In a new development that supports NATO's concerns, Human Rights Watch today is accusing some Libyan rebel forces of looting, arson and the abuse of civilians.
"In four towns captured by rebels in the Nafusa Mountains over the past month, rebel fighters and supporters have damaged property, burned some homes, looted from hospitals, homes, and shops, and beaten some individuals alleged to have supported government forces," Human Rights Watch said.