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Friday, March 11, 2011

Gadhafi stikes back: Libya rebels face pro-government onslaught, on the run in Ras Lanuf

Forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, have continued a large-scale military offensive against rebels in the country's east, launching air strikes at the oil-producing towns of Ras Lanuf and Brega.

Some of the fiercest fighting on Friday was reported from Ras Lanuf, where rebels launched a counter-attack to stem the advance of pro-Gaddafi forces. The rebels had earlier lost control of pockets of residential areas, and were clinging on in other parts of the town, sources told Al Jazeera.

Plumes of smoke were seeing billowing from an oil installation in the city, reportedly the result of military air strikes.

Ibrahim al-Alwani, a rebel fighter, said he and comrades still in Ras Lanuf had seen government troops in the town centre.

"I saw maybe 150 men and three tanks," he told Reuters on Friday morning. "I can hear clashes."

The government troops had landed by boat near the Fadeel hotel in Ras Lanuf on Friday, Mohammed al-Mughrabi, a spokesperson, told Reuters.

Rebels appeared to have withdrawn on Friday to their last main checkpoint, about 15km to the east of the town's centre.

"They came from the air, they came from the sea, and there were rockets everywhere. It was a big surprise for us,'' one rebel fighter, Mustafa Mehrik, a 39-year-old coffeeshop owner, said in Brega, a rebel-held town to the west where many of the casualties from the attack were taken.

"Everyone is worried. Today they say there will bring heavy weapons from Benghazi.'' (read more)