|Government forces continue to bomb rebel hideouts near Ras Lanuf, a strategic oil town [Al Jazeera]|
Libyan rebels, who for weeks had rapidly advanced to the capital Tripoli in a bid to oust Muammar Gaddafi, appear to be losing momentum as the better armed government forces regain control of several towns in the east of the vast country.
Brega, the scene of a fierce battle just over a week ago, was the latest town recaptured by Libyan government forces on Saturday, as rebel fighters retreated in the face of intense air and ground firepower.
Al Jazeera’s Nick Clark, reporting from the town of Tobruk, said that Gaddafi’s forces “are now in a good position to take on Benghazi,” Libya’s second largest city and a rebel stronghold.
Diplomatic pressure is having little impact on the fighting, as forces loyal to the Libyan leader continue to push eastward into territory held by the rebels.
Gaddafi’s forces, with air supremacy and a big advantage in tanks, are maintaining the momentum on the ground.
But while his forces were advancing eastward, Al Jazeera’s Tony Birtley reported from Benghazi that they were facing resistance from the rebels and that their progress had been slowed.
Gaddafi’s forces have not used the full clout of their superior airpower, raising fears in the Benghazi of an aerial attack.
“When all that is employed, as the full might of his force is unleashed, there’s concern here,” Birtley reported.
There were conflicting reports on which side controls Ras Lanuf, the main oil port town, where the opposition’s advance stalled on Thursday.
“We’re hearing the opposition forces are back in control of Ras Lanuf at the moment, although during the day, Gaddafi forces came back in,” Clark said.
Neither side had full control on Saturday, as fighting continued. Gaddafi’s warplanes were carrying out air strikes seemingly unhindered by rebel anti-aircraft guns mounted on pick-up trucks.
Many rebels were angry at what they perceive as international inaction.
“Where is the West? How are they helping? What are they doing,” shouted one fighter.
|Flashpoint cities across Libya|
The resurgent Gaddafi forces have already crushed the revolt in Az Zawiyah, a town 50km west of Tripoli and held by rebels for days against a major offensive.
Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford reported that pro-Gaddafi forces appeared to be in full control of the town on Saturday, though rebels vowed to keep fighting.
Foreign journalists brought to the city centre by government forces on Friday saw buildings scorched, patches of fresh paint and loyalists chanting “I love Gaddafi”.
“The situation is that nothing is happening. It’s just some gangs and people who like to destroy the country,” Mohamed Ali, a Gaddafi supporter, said.
“Then the Libyan army came and cleaned everything up as though nothing had happened.”
Witnesses said government forces had destroyed a graveyard where rebels had buried their dead.
Journalists were instructed to film what appeared to be hastily made graves.
It is unclear how many people, whether rebel fighters or Gaddafi forces, were killed in the fighting in Az Zawyiah.
The only town now holding out in western Libya is Misrata, about 200km east of Tripoli. On Saturday pro-Gaddafi forces launched an attack to retake the rebel-held town but failed.