Heavy fighting continued in Libya Saturday as government forces escalated efforts to retake control of territory held by rebel-led forces, according to Arab media reports.
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s security forces were advancing upon the city of Misurata, the only city in the western part of the country which remains under rebel control, Al Arabiya reported.
Bombs and gunfire were heard on the outskirts of the city, which braced itself for clashes.
In the east, the strategic oil-producing city of Ras Lanuf fell under control of government forces after sustained airstrikes and ground attacks pushed rebel fighters out of the city.
But the rebels, who remained around 20 km outside city limits, said they would continue fighting government forces in a bid to take back control of the territory.
One rebel spokesperson said some opposition forces were located as close as three kilometres outside the city, according to Al Arabiya.
Air attacks on Ras Lanuf targeted several locations in the city, including communication centres.
It is not known how many people have died in the fighting.
Gaddafi’s forces also had control of the eastern city of al-Burayqah, where large numbers of people were killed during fierce fighting last week, according to broadcaster Al Jazeera.
But the country’s second largest city of Benghazi, in the east, remained firmly under rebel control.
The Libyan government had offered amnesty to rebels who turned in their weapons, Libyan state television reported.
Meanwhile, the Arab League in Cairo began debating the question of a no-fly zone over Libya and was expected to produce a statement later in the evening.
The Libyan National Council asked the regional body to recognise it as a representative of the Libyan people, Egyptian media reported.
The council, located in Benghazi, aims to give a political face to the anti-government movement.
The European Union on Friday said it would communicate with the council, and called on Gaddafi to ‘relinquish power immediately’.
The EU also called for a meeting with the Arab League and the African Union regarding the question of imposing a no-fly zone over the country.
Libya has been in turmoil since Feb 15, when government forces violently cracked down on protesters calling for Gaddafi to step down after 42 years of rule.
Armed opposition groups had taken control of several cities in the eastern part of the country in recent weeks.
But Gaddafi’s forces, using air power and superior weaponry, are launching fierce counter attacks to retake control of territory.
No fly zone
Several thousand Libyan women marched through the streets of rebel-held Benghazi on Saturday, demanding a no-fly zone to stop Moammar Qaddafi from bombing rebel fighters.
“No-fly zone! No-fly zone!” chanted the crowd in English and in unison, waving Libyan flags and flashing victory signs as they marched along the seafront corniche in the country’s rebel-held second city.
Students, mothers, grandmothers, children and toddlers walked hand in hand, most of them wearing headscarves and some with flags painted on their cheeks and Libyan flags wrapped around their foreheads, bandana-style.
“We want a no-fly zone because we are dying, we are dying, we are dying. We need help from the UN,” shouted one woman in a headscarf.
“We don’t want foreign intervention, we just want a no-fly zone and our boys will do the rest. But they have light weapons in the face of air strikes,” said Nada el-Turki, an economics student walking hand in hand with a toddler.