Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi's regime brusquely swatted down a truce offered by rebels Friday and continued to pummel opposition positions in both the eastern and western sections of the country.
After rebels had refused for weeks to negotiate with Kadafi's government, the leader of the opposition's national council, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, offered a cease-fire if Kadafi agreed to withdraw his forces from besieged Libyan cities and permitted peaceful protests.
But Musa Ibrahim, a spokesman for the regime, dismissed the offer as a trick.
"You're not offering peace if you're making impossible demands," Ibrahim told reporters in Tripoli, the capital. "We will not leave our cities. We will not stop protecting our civilians. If you want peace, you leave things as they are. You sit down and you make peace. If you're making impossible demands, that's a trick."
The truce offer came as a military stalemate continued in the battle between Kadafi's fighters and the ragtag rebels attempting to topple him. While the rebels appear frustrated by their inability to defeat Kadafi militarily, the regime appears anxious about its isolation from the international community.
In Britain, media reports said Mohammed Ismail, a close aide to Seif Islam Kadafi, the Libyan leader's second son and heir apparent, was recently in London and held meetings with British officials. Some reports suggested that the British government merely reiterated its demand that the elder Kadafi step down.
Some analysts said the reports raised the prospect that more members of Kadafi's inner circle might be seeking a diplomatic exit strategy or just a way out of the country. Former Foreign Minister Musa Kusa defected to Britain late Wednesday, and another diplomat surfaced Thursday in Egypt and denounced the regime.
But the British Foreign Office declined to confirm that the talks took place, saying it would not provide a "running commentary" on its contacts with the Libyan government.
Western officials have publicly accused Kadafi of duplicity. His deputies have announced several cease-fires even while Kadafi forces have bombarded rebel-held cities such as Misurata and Zintan in the west and battled rebels in the east. On Friday his forces continued to hammer away at civilian targets in Misurata, attacking food supply warehouses and storming homes in the rebel-held city, Libya's third-largest, according to a rebel spokesman.
"Many people died. Many tanks attacked from many directions," said Mohammad Darrat, a businessman in the city. "They are trying to cut the food around us. They're trying to surround us. They are entering people's homes and slitting throats. The picture is very horrible."
A rebel spokesman reached in Zintan, in the country's isolated Western Mountains district, said the rebel-held enclave of two cities and seven villages remained under nearly daily fire from tanks and Grad rockets. There is concern of a growing humanitarian crisis with shortages of medicine, baby formula and electricity. Kadafi's forces have targeted wells and livestock, the spokesman said.
But Ibrahim accused the multinational forces now conducting daily airstrikes against Libya of inflicting civilian casualties by targeting checkpoints and airports. He said six civilians were killed and dozens injured in an airstrike Thursday on the village of Bou Aqoub, near the oil town of Port Brega. He distributed gruesome video taken at a hospital that showed children with shrapnel wounds.
Jalil, who served as Kadafi's justice minister before defecting to the rebels, said the opposition would observe a cease-fire if "the Kadafi brigades and forces withdraw from inside and outside Libyan cities to give freedom to the Libyan people to choose, and the world will see that they will choose freedom."
But Jalil reiterated that the opposition's ultimate goal is to remove Kadafi from power.
"Our aim is to liberate and have sovereignty over all of Libya, with its capital in Tripoli," he said.
Jalil indicated that the cease-fire offer was made in response to a United Nations request, which he said "we have to respect."
The cease-fire offer came as rebels continued to battle government soldiers and militiamen for control of Port Brega, 140 miles southwest of the de facto rebel capital of Benghazi. Rebel forces retreated in chaos from the eastern edge of Port Brega after a sustained rocket barrage by Kadafi forces.
Abdelilah Al-Khatib, the U.N. envoy to Libya, said the world body was seeking a cease-fire to protect civilians and that he raised the issue with Kadafi's aides during a visit to Tripoli on Thursday.
The U.S. is pulling back from involvement in airstrikes against Libyan ground units, leaving the campaign to warplanes from France, Britain and other countries, while American aircraft continue to provide aerial refueling, surveillance and other so-called support missions. The U.S. move has contributed to a steep drop in the number of daily strike missions against Libyan forces in recent days.
NATO said Friday that coalition aircraft had flown 74 strike missions Thursday, down from more than 100 a day earlier in the week. U.S. warplanes are expected to halt combat sorties this weekend.
Times staff writers Henry Chu in London and David S. Cloud in Washington contributed to this report.