LONDON — The head of Libya's opposition said Thursday that Moammar Gadhafi is a legitimate target for rebel and NATO forces, but insisted his preference would be for the despot to be put on trial.
Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, chairman of Libya's National Transitional Council, also told reporters that the country's opposition believed it could take its deadlocked military campaign into Tripoli, if fighters secure sufficient weapons.
"Gadhafi is the commander in chief of the armed forces, he is the one who is encouraging everybody to fight and we think there is justification for him to be a legal target," Abdul-Jalil said in London, following a round of meetings with British ministers and NGOs.
Abdul-Jalil held talks with Prime Minister David Cameron, Foreign Secretary William Hague and other senior officials in his first visit to London since the U.K. joined the NATO-led airstrikes against Gadhafi's regime.
NATO fighter jets pounded Gadhafi's sprawling compound in Tripoli and three other sites early Thursday, hours after he was seen on state TV in his first appearance since his son was killed nearly two weeks ago.
He said that the rebels were not encouraging NATO to kill Gadhafi and insisted he would be tried in Libya if arrested.
Abdul-Jalil insisted rebels in Tripoli were in the process of acquiring weapons and predicted they would eventually contest Gadhafi's forces in the capital.
"Tripoli is surrounded both internally and externally, and every day its sons go out and execute a few limited operations, perhaps to acquire some weapons — and you will see that Tripoli will rise to get rid of this regime," he said.
He declined to say which nations were supplying the opposition with arms, but said fighters in Misrata had received shipments of light weapons.
Britain said in talks it would supply police officers in rebel-held eastern Libya with uniforms and body armor, and help establish a public radio station. Cameron has said the U.K. would not supply arms to the opposition.
"We need light weapons, which is not equivalent to Gadhafi's weapons — but perhaps with courage, which Libyans have — there may be some kind of balance," Abdul-Jalil said, asking for help from other nations prepared to send arms.
The rebel leader also appealed to the international community to release frozen Libyan assets, which he said could amount to "tens of billions, or hundreds" of billions of dollars.
"We are seeking to have these frozen assets released within international monitoring," he said. "We need this money for three purposes: food, medicine and wages."Comment on this story
Cameron said he had invited Abdul-Jalil to open a permanent office in London to cement contacts with Britain. However, the U.K. has not followed France and Italy in recognizing the council as Libya's legitimate government.
"These steps continue our very clear intention to work with the council to ensure Libya has a safe and stable future, free from the tyranny of the Gadhafi regime," Cameron said, following talks at his Downing Street residence.
Hague said Britain would appoint John Jenkins, ex-British ambassador to Iraq, to head up a permanent U.K. mission in Benghazi.