TRIPOLI, Libya — A delegation of African leaders said Sunday that their Libyan counterpart, Moammar Gadhafi, accepted their "road map" for a cease-fire with rebels, whom they will meet today.
The leaders met with Gadhafi hours after NATO airstrikes battered his tanks, helping rebels push back his troops who had been attacking the eastern city of Ajdabiya.
The African Union's road map calls for an immediate cease-fire, cooperation in opening channels for humanitarian aid and starting a dialogue between the rebels and the government. AU officials, however, made no mention of any requirement for Gadhafi to pull his troops out of cities as rebels have demanded.
"We have completed our mission with the brother leader, and the brother leader's delegation has accepted the road map as presented by us," said South African President Jacob Zuma. He traveled to Tripoli with the heads of Mali and Mauritania to meet with Gadhafi.
Speaking at Gadhafi's Tripoli compound, Zuma called on NATO to end airstrikes to "give the cease-fire a chance."
Gadhafi has ignored the cease-fire he announced after international airstrikes were authorized last month, and he rejects demands from the rebels, the United States and its European allies that he relinquish power.
Gadhafi enjoys substantial support from countries of the AU, an organization that he chaired two years ago and helped transform using Libya's oil wealth. So it is not clear whether rebels would accept the AU as a fair broker.
Though the rebels have improved discipline and organization, they remain a far less powerful force than Gadhafi's troops. Members of the international community have grown doubtful that the opposition can overthrow Gadhafi even with air support.
A rebel battlefield commander said four airstrikes Sunday largely stopped heavy shelling by government forces of Ajdabiya — a critical gateway to the opposition's capital of Benghazi in the east. NATO's leader of the operation said the airstrikes destroyed 11 tanks near Ajdabiya and 14 more near Misrata, the only city rebels still hold in the western half of Libya.
NATO is operating under a U.N. resolution authorizing a no-fly zone and airstrikes to protect Libyan civilians. The commander of the NATO operation, Canadian Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard, stressed in a statement that the point of the airstrikes was to protect civilians.
The fighting in Ajdabiya on Sunday killed 23 people, 20 of them Gadhafi forces, said Mohammed Idris, a hospital supervisor. He said 38 people were killed over the weekend.