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Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s forces have reportedly carried out air strikes on the outskirts of the main rebel stronghold of Benghazi in eastern Libya.

Residents and rebels in the country’s second city of a milion people, said there were at least three raids, including at the airport and another one further south.

The Libyan army has said it would halt its operations on Sunday to give the opposition fighters a chance to surrender, Al Arabiya television reported.

But a rebel spokesman in the western city of Misratah, 130 miles from the capital Tripoli, said anti-Gaddafi forces could not trust any truce offer from the regime.

He said: “He (Gaddafi) will not allow anybody to leave peacefully and we do not want to leave. We will die on the battlefield.”

It comes as the United Nations will vote tonight on whether to impose a no-fly zone over Libya.

Col Gaddafi is due to address the people of Benghazi on TV later, and his defence ministry warned any foreign attack on Libya will endanger air and maritime traffic in the Mediterranean basin.

And it would expose the area to both short and long term risks, the ministry said.

Meanwhile, anti-Gaddafi forces say they are pushing back government troops in the eastern town of Ajdabiyah, despite claims on Libyan state television that the territory is now under government control.

But with phone lines down, and Sky News’ contacts in Ajdabiyah unreachable, there is no way of confirming the claims of either side.

The town of almost 140,000 people is the final obstacle preventing Gaddafi’s forces sweeping across the last remaining rebel territory to the east.

There are claims on Al Arabiya TV that recent fighting near the town has claimed the lives of at least 30 women, children and elderly men.

Two roads lead out of Ajdabiyah, one to Benghazi, the other to the eastern town of Tobruk, close to the Egyptian border.

The fall of Ajdabiyah would leave both vulnerable to attack within days.

But there is a theory that Col Gaddafi’s forces may choose to bypass Benghazi, come to Tobruk and steal off the area around the Egyptian border, before heading back westwards to encircle Benghazi.

In Tobruk, the occasional crackle of gunfire shatters the eerie calm along the town’s picturesque sea front. The rebels here are the rear-guard of a revolution that, just two weeks ago, was sweeping westwards towards Tripoli, only to be forced into a hasty retreat.

In Benghazi, the de-facto capital of the month-long uprising, the rebel leadership is still talking of victory, fired up by their unverified claims of military successes.

But, in a sign of how precarious the situation is now in the city of a million people, the International Red Cross has withdrawn its staff and handed over its medical supplies to its partners in the Red Crescent.

Doctors from Medicins Sans Frontiers, who had been helping staff at Benghazi hospital treat casualties from the front line, have also pulled out of the city.

The city is tense, and the rebel fighters seem too ill-prepared and lacking the heavy weapons to stage a serious defence.

The rebel leadership says most of the civilians in the city are armed and ready to fight to the death to protect the city from falling back into the government’s control.

Meanwhile, the dictator’s forces also claim to control Misratah – but this has not been independently verified and confirmation could take days.

Sky’s Lisa Holland is in Tripoli working under the supervision of the Libyan authorities.

She said: “It’s now virtually impossible to move around independently.

“Journalists have repeatedly been arrested and detained for lengthy periods and some even subjected to beatings and mock executions for trying to give their government minders the slip.

“As happened in the town of Zawiyah after weeks of control shifting between the anti and pro-Gaddafi forces, we were only ‘officially’ taken there when the government was ready for us to see the town – and when it had been ‘cleaned up’ and a concerted effort made to cover up the signs of heavy fighting.

“Walls were painted over to hide anti-Gaddafi slogans and soldiers refused to let us go beyond the main square to talk to civilians.” uknews

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