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Libyan Rebels Scramble as Gadhafi’s Forces Assault Strongholds

A Libyan rebel drives his tank to the frontline in Ajdabiya on March 14. (Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty Images)

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi called on opposition forces to surrender as his troops surrounded Ajdabiya, forcing a hasty retreat for rebels and threatening a main thoroughfare for their supplies and troops. The assault on Ajdabiya marks the latest in a series of quick victories for Gadhafi’s forces, which have relied on superior airpower to pummel the rebel strongholds and supply lines.

Rebels fighting to hold their last city west of Tripoli, Libya, are scrambling to retreat after Gadhafi’s forces overwhelmed the city of Zwara, 30 miles from the Tunisian border. The opposition has been centered in the eastern part of the country.

Government forces continued their assault on the town of Ajdabiya Tuesday with tanks and long-range missiles, chipping away at another rebel city. The airstrikes have also damaged supply lines along the Mediterranean coastline. The opposition is composed of militia groups and former army soldiers. Despite popular support in the east, they have called for international help in the form of a no-fly zone as government planes have outgunned the rebel forces on the ground.

Gadhafi’s troops also have focused on Misrata, a rebel stronghold 125 miles from Tripoli. The main opposition stronghold in the east, Benghazi, remains in rebel hands.

An army colonel who defected to join the opposition said that although they were bolstered in numbers by young men coming out to defend their city, the are lacking in supplies. “They don’t have the arms, but they have the will to fight,” Lt. Col. Mohammed Saber told the Associated Press.

Hospitals also are struggling to deal with the wounded. Doctors report shortages of medication and other supplies to treat the injured.

The international community has responded unevenly, with France and Britain pushing unsuccessfully for a no-fly zone. France diplomatically recognized the opposition governing coalition as the official government of Libya. The United States has positioned some forces closer to the country but has stopped short of backing a no-fly zone.

Updated 6 p.m. ET | A draft U.N. resolution establishing a no-fly zone over Libya was introduced Tuesday at a U.N. Security Council meeting, where it is expected to face tough negotiations over the coming days.

Lebanon, the council’s only Arab member, offered the draft, which is backed by France and Britain and endorsed by the Arab League. But Russia and Germany have expressed misgivings.

Earlier in the day, a meeting of G8 leaders in Paris failed to produce an agreement on a no-fly zone.

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