Libya forces bombard rebels

Battle rages as govt troops attack loosely knit rebel army with tanks and rockets

Gearing up: Libyan rebel fighters load ammunition into an anti-aircraft machine-gun as Libyan airforce fighter jets (not seen) fly overhead at the entrance to the oil-rich town of Ras Lanuf on Tuesday. AFPPeople are dying out there. Gadhafi’s forces have rockets and tanks,” Abdel Salem Mohamed, 21, told Reuters, returning to the oil port of Ras Lanuf from the front.

“You see this? This is no good,” he said, gesturing to a light machine gun he carried.
Other rebels are armed with heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and anti-tank and aircraft weapons, often mounted on 4x4 pick-up trucks. But Gadhafi has deployed warplanes and heavy armour against his rivals. Al Jazeera earlier reported that Gadhafi’s forces had launched a barrage of missiles against Ras Lanuf.

Many injured

This Reuters correspondent saw three wounded men in the Ras Lanuf hospital. Staff said they had come from fighting near the town of Bin Jawad, which government forces have recaptured.

No one was immediately able to confirm the total number of wounded who had arrived during the day. There had been no reports of deaths from Tuesday’s fighting.
Libyan warplanes earlier on Tuesday launched at least four air strikes on Ras Lanuf as the two sides faced off across a new front line close to major oil export terminals.

The battlefield has become mired in attack and counter-attack between the loose-knit rebel army of young volunteers and defectors, and Libya’s army in a buffer zone of barren desert and scrub between east and west. Rebels had fortified their positions and stocked up with ammunition and food while reconnaissance teams from both sides assessed each other with binoculars. Rebel forces had staged a number of forward attacks.

Libyan rebels rejected overtures by a representative of Gadhafi to negotiate his exit as his grip on power is increasingly challenged. The Tripoli government said talk of such negotiations was “nonsense”.

There were four air strikes, one hitting a residential area, on Ras Lanuf following similar attacks the previous day. No casualties were reported.

“An air strike hit a house in a residential area of Ras Lanuf. There is a big hole in the ground floor of the two-storey home,” one witness said. “A massive plume of smoke and dust flew up in the area from the strike. Men rushed to the area shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is greatest).”  Many homes, including the one hit, appeared to be evacuated. Families fled the oil town and rebels moved their weapons into the desert due to fears of a government forces’ ground attack.

Officials at rebel headquarters, based in Libya’s second city of Benghazi where the uprising against Gadhafi began, said there had been talks about Gadhafi stepping down.

Contact confirmed

“I confirm that we received contact from a Gadhafi representative seeking to negotiate his exit. We rejected this,” a media officer for the rebel Libyan National Council, Mustafa Gheriani, said.

“It’s over, we won’t negotiate with him at all. I think he has no other way. He has to die or find a place to go. It’s either us or him. We don’t have anything to negotiate about,” said Iman Bugaigis, a revolutionary official in Benghazi.

In defiant speeches, Gadhafi has vowed to fight on and has said he will never leave Libya and end his 41-year-old rule.

Rebels, who have set their sights on Gadhafi’s reinforced hometown of Sirte further west, said government forces had dug in their tanks near the town of Bin Jawad while rebels had retreated to Ras Lanuf and set up a forward checkpoint.

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