Libyan rebels have fought intense battles to repel Muammar Gaddafi's forces from the key oil refinery and port town of Marsa El Brega as the regime's biggest counter-offensive yet left at least 10 people dead.
Opposition fighters said on Wednesday that they had finally pushed Gaddafi's men out of the town on the Mediterranean coast after a day of chaotic clashes, even as a government fighter jet fired two missiles near their victory celebrations.
While Gaddafi appeared on television to deny there was any opposition to his 41-year rule, the advantage in Brega went back and forth but by the evening the rebels said they had prevailed.
However, moments after dozens of men had gathered in a square near the university, flashing victory signs and firing into the air, a fighter jet launched two missiles at them.
The attack caused no casualties but gouged out two craters in a street 15 to 20 metres away.
Al Jazeera's Tony Birtley said the warplane from Gaddafi's air force struck a beach near where the two sides were fighting at a university campus, apparently in an attempt to scare off the anti-Gaddafi fighters that were besieging regime forces in the campus.
Rebels chanting "Allahu Akhbar" [God is greatest] ducked for cover and then started firing machine guns at the jet, which streaked low in the sky.
Claiming victory several hours earlier, rebel leaders in the main eastern town of Benghazi said at least 10 people were dead.
Battles between forces loyal and against Gaddafi also raged in several towns across the North African country.
The bombing of Brega and reports about the fall of Gharyan and Sabratha towns in the country's northwest to pro-Gaddafi forces came as Gaddafi appeared on state television once again.
Located between Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte - still under government control - and the opposition-held eastern port of Benghazi, Brega also sits near ethnic fault lines between tribes loyal to Gaddafi and eastern groups opposed to him.
"They tried to take Brega this morning, but they failed," Mustafa Gheriani, a spokesman for the February 17th Coalition, an anti-government group, told the Reuters news agency.
"It is back in the hands of the revolutionaries. He is trying to create all kinds of psychological warfare to keep these cities on edge."
Earlier the Associated Press news agency quoted Ahmed Jerksi, manager of the oil installation in Brega, as saying that pro-Gaddafi forces took control of the facility at dawn without using force.
There were conflicting claims about the casualties from these battles.
Government forces were also reported to be battling to regain control of rebel-held towns close to Tripoli, trying to create a buffer zone around what is still Gaddafi's seat of power.
Our correspondent said an air raid carried out by forces loyal to Gaddafi reportedly targeted a weapons store about 6km outside the eastern town of Ajdabiya.
Witnesses told the Associated Press news agency that they saw two warplanes bomb the town's eastern outskirts at 10am local time.
They also said pro-Gaddafi forces were advancing on the town. "I see two jets bombing now,'' one witness said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Another witness said rebel forces were rushing to the western side of Ajdabiya to meet the advancing pro-Gaddafi force.
Libyan forces have launched repeated air raids during the two-week revolt but all of them have been reported to target facilities that store weapons in areas controlled by the rebels.
Plea for UN-backed strikes
Meanwhile, the rebel National Libyan Council in east Libya called for UN-backed air strikes on foreign mercenaries used by Gaddafi against his own people.
Hafiz Ghoga, a spokesman for the council based in Benghazi, told a news conference that Gaddafi was using "African mercenaries in Libyan cities" which amounted to an invasion of the oil producing North African nation.
"We call for specific attacks on strongholds of these mercenaries," he said, but added: "The presence of any foreign forces on Libyan soil is strongly opposed. There is a big difference between this and strategic air strikes."
Wednesday's developments come as the US sent warships to the region as part of a Western effort to pile more pressure on Gaddafi to stop his violent crackdown and step aside.
The destroyer USS Barry moved through the Suez Canal on Monday and into the Mediterranean Sea.
Two amphibious assault ships, the USS Kearsarge, which can carry 2,000 marines, and the USS Ponce passed through the canal on Wednesday.
The White House said the ships were being redeployed in preparation for possible humanitarian efforts but stressed it "was not taking any options off the table".
"We are looking at a lot of options and contingencies. No decisions have been made on any other actions," Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, said.
The US says Libya could sink into civil war unless Gaddafi quits amid fears that the uprising - the bloodiest
against long-serving rulers in north Africa and the Middle East - could cause a humanitarian crisis.
Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, has cautioned that "Libya could become a peaceful democracy or it could face protracted civil war".
But Gaddafi remains defiant and his son, Saif al-Islam, has warned the West against launching military action, insisting that his father would neither step down nor go into exile.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies