Rebels say ground forces loyal to leader Moammar Gadhafi are closing in on opposition fighters holding the key oil port of Ras Lanouf along the coastal road leading to the capital, heavily shelling the rebels and reversing their advance toward Tripoli.
Warplanes, apparently part of the NATO force that has intervened to weaken the regime's superior military power, buzzed Wednesday over the zone where the most intense fighting was under way. But no explosions were heard that would indicate new airstrikes.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
RAS LANOUF, Libya (AP) - Moammar Gadhafi's forces hammered rebels with tanks and rockets, turning their rapid advance into a panicked retreat in an hourslong battle Tuesday. The fighting underscored the dilemma facing the U.S. and its allies in Libya: Rebels may be unable to oust Gadhafi militarily unless already contentious international airstrikes go even further in taking out his forces.
Opposition fighters pleaded for strikes as they fled the hamlet of Bin Jawwad, where artillery shells crashed thunderously, raising plumes of smoke. No such strikes were launched during the fighting, and some rebels shouted, "Sarkozy, where are you?" - a reference to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, one of the strongest supporters of using air power against Gadhafi.