The White House says the decision by an international court to issue arrest warrants for Moammar Gadhafi is yet one more indication that the Libyan leader has lost his legitimacy.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday that the action by the International Criminal Court in The Hague underscores the need for justice and for holding Gadhafi accountable.
The International Criminal Court said Gadhafi, his son Seif al-Islam Gadhafi and his intelligence chief Abdullah al-Sanoussi are wanted for orchestrating the killing, injuring, arrest and imprisonment of hundreds of civilians during the first 12 days of an uprising to topple Gadhafi from power, and for trying to cover up their alleged crimes.
The warrants from The Hague court turn the three men into internationally wanted suspects, potentially complicating efforts to mediate an end to more than four months of intense fighting in the North African nation. The warrants will be sent to Libya, where Gadhafi remains defiantly entrenched.
The announcement came as Libyan rebels advanced to within about 50 miles of Tripoli and were fighting government troops for control of the town of Bair al-Ghanam, a rebel spokesman said.
"We are on the southern and western outskirts of Bair al-Ghanam," Juma Ibrahim, a rebel spokesman in the nearby town of Zintan, told Reuters by telephone on Monday.
"There were battles there most of yesterday (Sunday)," he said. "Some of our fighters were martyred and they (government forces) also suffered casualties and we captured equipment and vehicles. It's quiet there today and the rebels are still in their positions," he said.
The rebels' claim follows weeks of intense fighting in the Nafusa mountains in which opposition forces have slowly pushed Gadhafi's troops back toward the capital.
Libya's rebels control the eastern third of the country and pockets, including a number of Nafusa mountain towns, in the west.
The bulk of the fighting in recent months has been focused on front lines to the east of Tripoli. But a push by rebels from the Nafusa mountains could force Gadhafi to commit more troops to the southern and western approaches to the capital.
Guma el-Gamaty, a spokesman for the rebels' National Transitional Council, said Bair al-Ghanam is significant because it is only 19 miles south of the city of Zawiya, a key western gateway to the capital and home to a crucial oil refinery.
Opposition fighters seized control of Zawiya in March before government troops crushed rebel forces there to retake the city. Fighting broke out in the city again earlier this month, briefly cutting access to the vital coastal highway that passes through Zawiya. The route links Tripoli with the Tunisian border and is one of Gadhafi's last main supply lines.
In Tripoli, Gadhafi's government remained defiant. Government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said Gadhafi is in "high spirits" and remains in day-to-day control of the country. He insisted Gadhafi will remain in Libya, but wouldn't confirm that the leader is still in the capital.
"Gadhafi is here, he is staying. He is leading the country. He will not leave. He will not step down," Ibrahim told reporters in Tripoli, challenging the rebels and the NATO-led coalition giving them air support. "If they want to continue the fight, we are ready. We will fight street to street, house to house."
Moussa told reporters that the government so far has distributed 1.2 million weapons to supporters in the west of the country to defend themselves.
Meanwhile, Libya's foreign minister and two other senior officials were in Tunisia on Monday negotiating with "foreign parties", according to Tunisia's state news agency.
It was not immediately clear if the negotiations involved a possible peace deal with rebels fighting to end Gadhafi's four-decade rule.
Foreign Minister Abdelati Obeidi was on the southern Tunisian island of Djerba, near the border with Libya, and had been joined by Health Minister Ahmed Hijazi and Social Affairs Minister Ibrahim Sherif, the TAP news agency reported.
Obeidi was "negotiating with several foreign parties," the agency reported late on Sunday, without giving details.
Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, vice chairman of the National Transitional Council, said last week the rebel leadership had been in indirect contact with Gadhafi's government about a possible peace deal.