|The rebel force has continued a westward advance, surrounding pro-Gaddafi forces in the village of Tiji [Reuters]
Libya's opposition forces have launched an attack against what they say was a pro-Gaddafi armed group operating under the opposition's banner in the country's east.
The opposition's forces had overrun the base of the al-Nidaa Brigade, the pro-government faction, after five hours of fighting near the opposition stronghold Benghazi, according to spokesman Mahmoud Shamam.
He said that four people were killed and six others wounded in the clash, which involved the use of heavy weapons.
Al Jazeera's Tony Birtley, reporting from Benghazi, said the battle was launched to subdue elements of Muammar Gaddafi's forces that had been operating as a "fifth column" within the opposition ranks.
"According to sources here there is no connection with the attack and the death of [General Abdel Fattah Younes]," said Birtley, who added that documents were found on the defeated faction that linked it to Gaddafi.
Shamam said the main rebel force is now in control of the al-Nidaa Brigade's base on the western outskirts of Benghazi, the de facto capital of Libya's opposition-held east.
"It was a long battle and it took many hours because they were heavily armed," he said.
"In the end we arrested 31 of them. We lost four people," said Shamam, who added the group of fighters were rounded up for their role in organising a prison break in Benghazi earlier in the week.
The fighting followed Thursday's killing of Younes, the chief rebel commander, under mysterious circumstances.
Mustafa el-Sagisli, the rebels' deputy interior minister, said that the al-Nidaa Brigade had been involved in "plans to [plant] car bombs". He said that they "participated in many acts of terrorism inside Benghazi".
Some reports claimed Sunday's clashes pointed to sharp rifts within the campaign to unseat Gaddafi, nearly six months after the start of the uprising.
Al Jazeera's Birtley disagreed: "I'm not sure there are huge divisions, but there are some cracks. The [opposition National Transitional Council] is taking great steps to suggest their unity is intact and they are speaking with one voice."
Meanwhile, the Gaddafi government said on Sunday it was in contact with members of the opposition National Transitional Council (NTC).
In the Libyan capital, Tripoli, Khaled Kaim, the Libyan deputy foreign minister, denied rumours of recent contacts with Younes.
"He was in contact with the government during his visit in Italy two months ago. Since then we had no contact with him despite [the fact that] we still have contact with other members of NTC but not with Abdel Fattah," Kaim said.
Gaddafi, meanwhile, on Saturday night renewed his pledge "never to abandon" the battle, in an audio tape broadcast on state television, despite NATO air strikes earlier that day on the broadcaster's headquarters in Tripoli.
Libya's enemies would be "defeated in the face of the resistance and courage of the Libyan people," he said in a speech following the strikes, which Tripoli said killed three journalists.
Fighting continued between rebel and pro-Gaddafi forces in Libya's west on Sunday, with intense clashes reported near the town of Tiji, which rebels say is the last post remaining in government hands in the western mountains.
|The Libyan rebels' assault on Tiji took place
during a sandstorm [Reuters]
"We are going to take Tiji, I know it. And that will clear the way for us to head to Tripoli eventually," said fighter Naji Shayboukh, who was holding a home-made rocket-launcher.
"I think it's fair to say that although the opposition haven't got the decisive victory that they wanted, they have gained ground. They've taken the village of al-Jawsh, which is one that they entered a few days ago, but were pushed back from ... and they've now virtually surrounded the key strategic city of Tiji," reported James Bays, Al Jazeera's correspondent, from the frontline.
Intense fighting was also taking place near the eastern gate of Zliten, where the rebel council says opposition forces have captured one tank and four missile launchers from pro-Gaddafi troops.
Al Jazeera's Hoda Abdel Hamid reported that the offensive on Zliten was significant, as if the town is taken, "the road to Tripoli is quite clear except for the smaller town of Khomus".
France calls on Libyans
Also on Sunday, France said it was committed to striking Gaddafi's military assets for as long as needed for him to leave power and called on Libyans in Tripoli to rise against him.
"We say to Gaddafi that we will not ease our pressure and to his opponents that we will not abandon them," Gerard Longuet, the French Defence Minister, was quoted as saying by the newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche.
"Things have to move more in Tripoli ... the population must rise up," he added.
With their bombing campaign dragging on unresolved, France and Britain have been forced to accept that Gaddafi may stay in Libya if he quits power under a ceasefire, despite calls for international justice.
"We are signed up for the duration and are thereby facilitating a negotiated settlement" between Gaddafi's government and the opposition forces backed by France and Britain, Longuet said in the interview, which was published on Sunday.
Liam Fox, the UK's defence minister, echoed Longuet's statements, saying that Britain will take part in the NATO bombing campaign on Libya for "as long as is required" to fulfill a UN security council resolution calling for the protection of civilians.
"There's only one message we should be sending to the [Libyan] regime and that is that we have both the military capability and the resolve to continue pursuing and fulfilling United Nations resolution 1973 as long as is required," he told BBC radio in comments broadcast on Sunday.
Germany, meanwhile, declared Hisham al-Sharif, a Libyan diplomat, persona non grata on Sunday due to his allegiance to Muammar Gaddafi.