RAS LANUF, Libya — Forces loyal to the Libyan leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, attacked rebel fighters Thursday on the outskirts of this strategic refinery town, with a government warplane bombing an insurgent check-point a day after one of the fiercest engagements of the three-week-old conflict, The New York Times reports.
There were reports of loyalist air strikes towards the rebel headquarters of Benghazi. A government airstrike seemed aimed at an insurgent checkpoint on the eastern approaches of Ras Lanuf, while a large explosion whose cause was not clear was seen at a checkpoint in the town of Brega, about a hundred miles to the east of here.
On Wednesday, the budding opposition army fired back with missile fusillades and rocket-propelled grenades to the west of Ras Lanuf. Backed by their heavy weaponry, the rebels managed to advance on foot for a few miles to the west, witnesses said, until the fighters were frozen by fire from government mortars and heavy machine guns and forced to retreat in trucks. At least five rebels died in the fighting.
In the western half of the country, elite government troops continued to pound the besieged rebel-held city of Zawiyah, only 30 miles from Tripoli, the capital and Colonel Qaddafi’s stronghold. While the government claims to have subdued opposition in Zawiyah there has been no independent corroboration of that assertion and reporters are barred from even approaching the town.
Across the country from each other, in fights of vastly different complexions, Ras Lanuf and Zawiyah have become proving grounds in Libya’s emerging civil war. In the east, on a battlefield of desert, dunes and scrub, the rebel force has matured and, improbably, retained control of the town for more than week. But under steady bombardment by government jets and kept at bay by superior artillery, the rebels have not been able to advance toward Tripoli.
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