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Battles Rage at Sirte and Bin Jawwad, Coalition Nations Meet in London

Libyan rebels return from the battle field outside the oil rich town of Ras Lanouf on March 29, 2011. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images) Libyan rebels return from the battle field outside the oil rich town of Ras Lanouf on March 29, 2011. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)

3 p.m. ET | As representatives from 40 nations continued talks in London to discuss the situation in Libya, they did not consider arming Libyan rebels, according to British Foreign Secretary William Hague. Further sanctions remain the preferred option for applying pressure on Gadhafi and his forces.

In yet another reversal, Gadhafi’s troops used tanks and heavy weaponry to pound rebels near Ras Lanouf and Bin Jawwad. The opposition had made swift gains in recent days under the cover of international air strikes but were still outgunned by Gadhafi’s military. The superior equipment has allowed the government to retake several cities in recent weeks and continue assaults on cities like Misrata in the west.

11:30 a.m. ET | During talks in London Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said “this coalition military action will continue until Gadhafi fully complies with the terms of 1973, ceases his attacks on civilians, pulls his troops back from places they have forcibly entered, and allows key services and humanitarian assistance to reach all Libyans.” She emphasized a three-pronged approach of humanitarian assistance, pressuring Gadhafi, and supporting political change that would lead to Gadhafi’s exit.

9 a.m. ET | Government tanks repelled a rebel assault on Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s hometown of Sirte, sending opposition militias back with a barrage of rockets. Fierce fighting continued in Bin Jawwad, a small town pummeled by rockets and artillery. The contested cities are the latest in the pitched battle between Gadhafi loyalists and the opposition, which have alternated victories in recent weeks in places like Ajdabiya and Ras Lanouf, both of which were retaken by rebels Monday. The rebels have been outgunned by heavy machinery but have been aided by international air strikes targeting government assets and a no-fly zone over the country.

In the west, Misrata has seen sustained fighting for over a month, despite Gadhafi’s claims that it had been “liberated” from rebel hands. Misrata is Libya’s third largest city and has been the target of government attacks since it was swept up in the initial momentum of the opposition movement.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Italy and several other nations were looking toward a cease fire and talks to resolve the crisis, with the possibility of exile for Gadhafi himself. Gadhafi maintains that the opposition is influenced by terrorist groups and has called the air strikes a “monstrous assault” on his country.

In a prime time address Monday evening, President Obama defended the United States’ involvement on humanitarian grounds, pointing to Gadhafi’s brutal response to the unrest and saying that if left unprotected, Libyans “could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world.”

President Obama also emphasized that the burden was being passed to other allies. “Going forward, the lead in enforcing the no-fly zone and protecting civilians on the ground will transition to our allies and partners, and I am fully confident that our coalition will keep the pressure on Gadhafi’s remaining forces,” he said.

Though it has not yet formally recognized the opposition council as Libya’s government, the Associated Press reports that the United States is sending an envoy to Benghazi for talks with opposition leaders.

Representatives from dozens of countries are meeting in London to discuss the situation. Despite voicing a commitment to enforcing the no-fly zones and an arms blockade off the Mediterranean coast, NATO nations have shied away from any mention of ground troops.

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