Italian foreign minister declares Libyan leader's rule "finished", while NATO forces resume attacks in the capital.
Italy has joined international calls led by Britain, France and the US for the Libyan leader to go [Reuters]
Italy's foreign minister has declared the government of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi "finished", hours after NATO forces reportedly resumed attacks on targets in the Libyan capital, Tripoli.
Franco Frattini made the comments on Tuesday during a visit to the Libyan opposition stronghold of Benghazi.
"The Gaddafi regime is finished, he must leave office, he must leave the country," Frattini told a joint news conference with Ali al-Essawi, the foreign affairs chief in the opposition National Transitional Council (NTC).
"His aides have left, he has no international support, the G8 leaders reject him, he must go," Frattini said.
"We must continue our military pressure (and) strengthen our economic sanctions to ensure that the movement of the Libyan people is irreversible."
Frattini spoke ahead of a ceremony to inaugurate a new Italian consulate in the eastern city.
Fears of a split
Al Jazeera's Cal Perry, reporting from Benghazi, said the visit was also an attempt to "impress upon the international media the co-operation between the rebels here and Europe, namely, Italy".
He said Frattini had pledged both financial and military assistance to the opposition.
Italy, the former colonial ruler of Libya and former strategic economic partner with Gaddafi's government, has joined international calls led by Britain, France and the United States for the Libyan leader to go.
"In coming here, I have fully recognised the fact that the NTC truly represents the Libyan people. I underline our full support for the NTC... which is why we are opening a consulate in Benghazi, having closed our embassy in Tripoli," Frattini said.
Our correspondent said there were concerns that with international support for the NTC growing, and with further discussions over a new constitution and currency taking place, Libya might be split into two parts.
"The partition of Libya is one of the most dangerous things ... and he [the Italian foreign minister] said that this could only be prevented through economic and military support [and] by continuously pressurising Gaddafi, and not cutting a political peace deal."
Ready for a truce
Frattini's comments came shortly after Libyan state media reported that NATO forces had resumed attacks on civilian and military targets in Tripoli.
Amid the reported strikes, Jacob Zuma, South Africa's president, announced that Gaddafi was prepared to sign a truce in an attempt to stop the fighting in his country.
Zuma, who met the Libyan leader at an undisclosed location during a visit to Libya on Monday, also listed conditions set out by the embattled leader that have scuppered previous ceasefire attempts.
He said Gaddafi was willing to accept an African Union (AU) initiative for a ceasefire that would stop all hostilities, including NATO air strikes in support of rebel forces.
But Zuma said Gaddafi insisted that "all Libyans be given a chance to talk among themselves" to determine the country's future. The opposition, however, quickly rejected the offer.
Zuma did not say whether Gaddafi was ready to step down, a key demand of the opposition.
In April, Zuma led a delegation of the African Union to Libya with an AU proposal for a truce. Gaddafi said he would accept the truce, but quickly ignored it and resumed his attacks.
In Benghazi, Fathi Baja, the opposition foreign minister, rejected the African Union plan.
"We refuse completely; we don't consider it a political initiative, it is only some stuff that Gaddafi wants to announce to stay in power," he told the Associated Press.
Meanwhile, Idris Traina, a member of the Libyan opposition based in Los Angeles, told Al Jazeera that there was nothing new in this visit.
"Initially the reports we heard were that president Zuma was there to negotiate an exit strategy for Gaddafi and his family," he said.
"Later we heard repeated talk about the truce, but the Transitional National Council and the Libyan people have rejected these [truce offers] before and are rejecting them now."
Zuma's visit to Libya came amid reports of mass defections from Gaddafi's army.
Eight senior military officers held a press conference in Italy on Monday, saying they were part of a group of as many as 120 military officials and soldiers who defected from Gaddafi's side in recent days.
The hastily called news conference was organised by the Italian government for the eight officers - five generals, two colonels and a major.
Now in its fourth month, Libya's conflict is deadlocked on the ground, with anti-Gaddafi rebels unable to break out of their strongholds and advance towards Tripoli, where Gaddafi appears to be firmly entrenched.
Rebels control the east of Libya around the city of Benghazi, Libya's third-biggest city Misurata, and a mountain range stretching from the town of Zintan, 150 km south of Tripoli, towards the border with Tunisia.