|Rebels say NATO air raids helped them move further west, just as conflict appeared to reach a stalemate [Al Jazeera]
Libyan rebels are in a renewed effort to push towards the oil port of Brega while Muammar Gaddafi's forces pounded besieged Misurata to the west with rockets and mortars, a rebel spokesman said.
The rebels' attempt to fight their way into western Libya on Saturday, which would allow them to link up with comrades in Misurata, has ground to a halt along the eastern coastal stretch from Ajdabiyah to Brega, despite NATO air strikes.
Rebels said some fighters had set up positions on the outskirts of Brega, but with their forces exposed to attacks on the highway they were unable to send more men forward to dislodge Gaddafi loyalists in the town centre.
In Misurata, besieged for seven weeks, Gaddafi's forces pounded the town with rockets and mortars.
At least 100 Grad rockets were fired, a rebel spokesman said.
The barrage came a day after thousands of residents in the coastal city took to the streets calling on Gaddafi to step down and immediately stop attacks on their city.
"They fired Grads at an industrial area this morning; at least one hundred rockets were fired. No casualties are reported," Abdelbasset Abu Mzereiq told the Reuters news agency on Saturday.
"We know that the dairy factory there has been damaged."
According to Gemal Salem, another rebel spokesman, at least three people were killed after pro-Gaddafi forces targeted a dairy factory and another that makes cooking oil.
It is not immediately possible to independently verify their allegations.
Meanwhile, a Red Cross team arrived in Misurata on Saturday to assess the situation.
Aid groups have described an increasingly desperate situation for many trapped civilians in the city, with few areas safe from the daily bombardment by government forces and growing needs of food and medical supplies.
Al Jazeera's Mike Hanna, reporting from Benghazi, said that trapped civilians are being forced into compact areas due to heavy fighting.
Amid the assault, a ship from Misurata carrying injured civilians has reached the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.
Rockets were fired into Misurata on Friday as well, killing at least eight people, a local doctor told Al Jazeera.
He said seven other civilians, including children and older people, were wounded in that attack. Residents of Misurata told Al Jazeera around 120 rockets pounded the city.
In the east, meanwhile, rebels have reportedly reinforced positions beyond the town of Ajdabiya.
AFP news agency journalists and other media were stopped at a checkpoint on the western side of Ajdabiya on Saturday, but rebels said they held several kilometres of desert terrain beyond that.
Rebel vehicles returning to the town were seen carrying mattresses in the back, suggesting fighters had spent the night holding on to the newly conquered ground.
NATO warplanes have been increasingly active in the area over the past three days, and the rebels said they believed the jets were clearing the path ahead with air strikes.
An officer with Libya's rebels said after four days of holding back his forces have advanced to the strategic oil town of Brega, Associated Press news agency reported.
Col. Hamid Hassy said that following scattered clashes with government forces, the rebels were now near the massive oil facilities of the town.
He said the rebels have brought with them engineers to repair any damage to the refineries and terminal which have already changed hands half a dozen times since fighting erupted a month and a half ago.
Meanwhile, Tunisian state media said a boat chartered by Medecins San Frontieres carrying 95 Libyans from Misurata arrived in the port town of Zarzis on Saturday.
TAP news agency said that three critically injured on board and seven seriously injured were transferred to a hospital in Sfax after their arrival. Others were sent to a handful of other hospitals.
Helmi Makkaoui, a Tunisian coordinator for the humanitarian aid group, was quoted as saying that lack of medicine, food and water for the 6,000-10,000 in migrant workers camps around Misurata has led to a
"catastrophic" situation that is "deteriorating every day".
State media in Qatar also said some rebels injured on the frontline have been flown to capital Doha. It is the third group to arrive in Doha for treatment.
In other news, Libyan government forces have been accused by a human-rights campaign group of using cluster bombs, which are banned by more than 100 countries.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported on Friday that Libya's military were firing cluster munitions into residential areas as it battled rebels for control of Misurata.
Mussa Ibrahim, a Libyan government spokesman, dismissed the allegations, saying: "I challenge them to prove it."
Chad's foreign minister also rejected allegations by Libyan rebels that Chadian officers were fighting alongside Gaddafi's soldiers.
Moussa Faki Mahmat, addressing diplomatic envoys to the Central African state, said a report by the Libyan transitional national council and submitted to the UN Security Council that alleged Chadian army officers were in Libya was untrue.
"We want to formally deny those accusations and, as proof, the officers mentioned in the report are here present," Mahmat said, pointing to nine soldiers seated in the room.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies