They’ve edged south from Tripoli for days, appealing to the people of Bani Walid for a peaceful resolution.
Now the celebratory gunfire is deafening as the rebels have got one step closer to ridding the Gaddafi stronghold of the deposed regime loyalists.
Thirty miles outside Bani Walid, the town’s elders came face to face with Abdullah Kenshil.
On the floor of the mosque, the main adviser to the National Transitional Council, a man born and bred in Bani Walid, appealed to the clan chiefs: “I know you will accept to join the rebels and stop the suffering of our people.”
In a deferential tone, he assured them that the rebels did not want any more bloodshed but a peaceful and united Libya: “Bani Walid is an important piece of Libyan history – we are not here to tell you what to do or to judge you.
“We will not enter any houses or harm anyone.
“We have a message for our sons in Bani Walid who are carrying weapons – we will do what the prophet Mohammed did; he was good to the people who killed his companions and forced him to leave his hometown.”
To cheers from around the room and chants of Allah u Akbar, the NTC’s prime minister Mahmoud Jabril, reinforced that message on the phone from Benghazi: “This is a key moment for the town, we should not squander this opportunity; and only a judge and the courts can decide the fate of the people who are carrying weapons against us.”
It’s unclear how many Gaddafi loyalists are still holed up in Bani Walid.
Until very recently the rebels had claimed former regime spokesman Moussa Ibrahim and two of Gaddafi’s sons were still moving in and around the town.
Now they say they may have fled, taking away what little leadership the die-hard Gaddafi fighters had left in the area.
It’s been days since Bani Walid had electricity or water and they’re running out of food and medical supplies.
The town’s elders talked of engineers on standby to repair the infrastructure and lines of communication; they talked of medical supplies and staff waiting to get the call to travel in from Tripoli.
Their message is clear: they want a peaceful transition and a chance for life to get back to normal for the ordinary people of Bani Walid.
With Abdullah Kenshil’s promise in hand, they now need to convince them that, contrary to the Gaddafi rhetoric broadcast to the town by loud speaker, the rebels will be true to their word.