BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - Libyan rebels welcomed the International Criminal Court's arrest warrants for Muammar Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam and spy chief Abdullah al-Senussi, saying they will hasten the leader's departure.
"We are extremely happy that the whole world has united in prosecuting Gaddafi for the crimes he has committed," rebel council spokesman Jalal al-Galal said by telephone from Benghazi. "The people feel vindicated by such a response."
The rebels, backed by NATO air support, have been battling Gaddafi's forces since late February when the east of the country rose up against his 41-year rule.
The revolt has turned into the bloodiest of the Arab Spring uprisings sweeping the Middle East.
The rebel leadership in Libya's eastern city of Benghazi has rejected attempts to negotiate an end to the fighting if Gaddafi is allowed to stay in power, saying crackdowns by his security forces and militias had stripped him of legitimacy.
Asked if the ICC arrest warrant would make it less likely that Gaddafi would step down and leave the country, Galal said:
"Gaddafi was never inclined to leave Libya in the first place. He's buying time and holding out in his territory for as long as he can. This will only hasten the departure of Gaddafi and his regime".
He said talk of negotiation was now beside the point.
"After this warrant, it is all irrelevant," said Galal. "We cannot negotiate with war criminals. The world has confirmed what we have been saying all along. He's a war criminal and he should be tried for it."