* Gaddafi government open to more U.S. contacts
* United Nations plan would begin with ceasefire
* Libyan foreign minister leaves Cairo after talks (Adds Zlitan airstrike casualty claim, NATO and rebel response)
By Rania El Gamal
BENGHAZI, July 25 (Reuters) - The U.N. envoy to Libya and the Benghazi-based rebel council discussed on Monday ideas for ending the civil war, but said a firm initiative had yet to take shape.
With a diplomatic push to end the conflict gathering steam, Abdul Elah al-Khatib told Reuters after the meeting that he would head to Tripoli on Tuesday to canvass government views.
“We did not put a plan in front of them. We discussed the views and ideas on how we can trigger a political proccess ... to achieve a political solution,” he said.
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is clinging to power despite a four-month-old NATO air campaign and five months of fighting with rebels who have seized large swathes of the oil-rich North African country.
NATO has continued to hammer Gaddafi’s forces around Libya, striking twice in central Tripoli on Monday, and Britain has said there would be no let-up during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in August.
But hopes have grown for a negotiated end to a war that has dragged on longer than many initially expected.
Speaking to Reuters after meeting Khatib, senior rebel official Mahmoud Jibreel said he had made it clear that the rebels would not accept any initiative that did not involve the removal of Gaddafi from power as a first step to peace.
That appears to be a tacit rejection of U.N. ideas floated informally by a diplomat last week, which envisaged a ceasefire followed by a power-sharing government without Gaddafi.
Khatib, a Jordanian politician, has said his ideas involve an agreement on a ceasefire and, simultaneously, on setting up a mechanism to manage the transitional period. He gave no details.
“So far, there is no initiative. He is trying to propose some general ideas, see what is acceptable and what is not acceptable, and on the basis of that he can propose an initiative,” Jibreel said.
“We are not committed to anything unless we have something written.”
Khatib’s visit comes a day after Gaddafi’s Foreign Minister, Abdelati Obeidi, ended three days of talks in regional power Egypt to seek a negotiated end to the war.
Libya’s government has said its representatives are ready to hold more talks with the United States and the rebels, but that Gaddafi himself will not negotiate and will not quit.
Government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said on Friday senior Libyan officials had a “productive dialogue” with U.S. counterparts earlier this month in a rare meeting that followed U.S. recognition of the rebel government.
Complicating Gaddafi’s situation is the fact that the world court in The Hague is seeking his arrest for crimes against humanity allegedly committed by his forces. This makes it difficult for him to find refuge outside the country.
Hopes for a negotiated settlement have grown, however, since France said for the first time last week that Gaddafi could stay in Libya as long as he gives up power.
The rebel leaders have given conflicting signals in recent weeks over whether they would allow Gaddafi and his family to stay in Libya as part of a deal, providing he gave up power.
In the latest comment on the issue, opposition leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil told the Wall Street Journal that it would be acceptable.
“Gaddafi can stay in Libya but it will have conditions,” he said. “We will decide where he stays and who watches him. The same conditions will apply to his family.”
The poorly armed rebels seem unlikely to quickly unseat Gaddafi. Rebels announced they had almost taken the oil town of Brega, but later said that minefields had slowed their advance.
Libyan state TV showed images of empty streets and oil storage facilities in Brega that it said were filmed on Monday.
Rebels fighting on a western front near Misrata say they have pushed closer to Zlitan, on the Mediterranean coast 160 km (100 miles) east of Tripoli.
But the front near Zlitan was relatively quiet on Monday.
Twenty casualties were taken to hospital in Misrata and to a field hospital, but doctors said most had only light wounds.
Tripoli-based journalists were taken to Zlitan to see what officials said were some food warehouses and a clinic that were hit by NATO forces.
The officials said seven bodies had been recovered from what they said was the destroyed clinic, where blankets and oxygen tanks but no beds could be seen.
Britain said its warplanes near Zlitan hit four buildings on Saturday, which NATO surveillance had identified as command and control centres, staging posts and an ammunition stockpile.
“We have no evidence suggesting that these allegations are founded,” a NATO official told Reuters on Monday when asked about the casualty claim.
Rebels near Zlitan said in an online posting that the facilities had once served civilian uses — two medical centrers, a food store and a public bath — but had been turned into military bases by Gaddafi forces. (Additional reporting by Nick Carey in Misrata, Justyna Pawlak in Brussels, Joseph Nasr in Berlin, Souhail Karam in Rabat, Missy Ryan and Lutfi Abu Aun in Tripoli; written by Lin Noueihed and Richard Meares)