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Rebels Hold Out in Areas Around Ras Lanouf, Gadhafi Forces Celebrate in Zawiya

A Libyan rebel fighter smiles while changing his gun magazine as smoke raises from a bomb dropped by a Libyan jet fighter on the outskirt of the eastern oil port town of Ras Lanouf on March 11, 2011. (Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images)  A Libyan rebel fighter smiles while changing his gun magazine as smoke raises from a bomb dropped by a Libyan jet fighter on the outskirt of the eastern oil port town of Ras Lanouf on March 11, 2011. (Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images)

Updated 4:35 p.m. ET

Gadhafi’s forces celebrated in Zawiya’s main square, which was filled with tanks Friday, claiming victory over the fiercely contested city.

President Obama said a no-fly zone to protect civilians was still under consideration.

Updated 2:30 p.m. ET

In News Conference, Obama Addresses Disaster in Japan, Oil Prices, Libya

As for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s recent gains over rebels, President Obama said the crisis is “going to require some difficult judgment calls” and that Gadhafi will be held accountable for civilian deaths. Of threats to hunt opposition members door-to-door, he said “that implied a sort of lack of restraint and ruthlessness that I think raises our antennae.”

Updated 9:30 a.m. ET, March 11

After an intensive counterattack from Gadhafi’s forces forced rebels to make a hasty retreat Thursday near the oil port city of Ras Lanouf, opposition fighters managed to maintain some of their positions in the area. Some of the remaining forces were commando units that had defected from the Libyan military. The areas included oil facilities and industrial areas away from the residential districts.

In Thursday’s fighting, at least four were killed and 42 more wounded.

Updated 4 p.m. ET

A sustained and heavy attack by Gadhafi’s forces has rebels fleeing near the oil port of Ras Lanouf, where the regime’s counteroffensive has reversed much of the opposition’s early momentum and born down on their strongholds with air attacks. Vehicles belonging to rebel militias could be seen retreating eastward. The heavy-handed response has discouraged attempts to reach Tripoli. There are reports of Gadhafi forces holding and torturing opposition members from Zawiya, another fiercely contested city.

U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in a Senate hearing Thursday that, barring foreign aid, the rebels are “in for a tough row” and that in “the longer term… the regime will prevail” by having more resources at their disposal.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she will meet with opposition leaders next week during a trip to Tunisia and Egypt.

Updated 10 a.m. ET, March 10

Libya’s opposition scored a diplomatic victory when France announced it will recognize its Interim Governing Council as the legitimate government of Libya after President Nicolas Sarkozy met with leaders from the group from Benghazi. An opposition spokesman said he hoped other major powers would follow suit. Though they have not yet formally recognized another government, Germany, Britain, Switzerland, and several other countries have frozen Moammar Gadhafi’s assets in an attempt to isolate him financially.

Rebel fighters suffered a setback near the oil port of Ras Lanouf, where airstrikes and superior tank power have overwhelmed the opposition militias, who are less equipped with heavy weapons. On Wednesday, the fighting caused massive fires at two oil installations, raising further concerns about damage to the Libya’s supply.

Though NATO has started surveillance flights, the U.S. has not followed France and Britain in calling for a no-fly zone over Libya. China and Russia, both permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, are also unlikely to allow any such resolution. The opposition has asked foreign powers to establish a no-fly zone to prevent the kind of damaging airstrikes that they’ve seen in recent days.

Humanitarian groups say dozens of civilians have died in the heavy fighting across the area, but exact numbers have been difficult to verify. The government has not allowed foreign journalists in, and estimates have come primarily from casualties that can make it to one of the main hospitals.

A team of journalists from the BBC was detained and beaten as they tried to reach the contested area of Zawiya. After their release, they described the torture of other detainees, some of whom were Libya dissenters from Zawiya. A British and Brazilian publication both reported journalists missing in Libya.

(Watch: If Gadhafi Falls, Who Would Govern Libya and How?)

Updated 12:50 p.m. ET

Updated noon ET

Planes fired on a pipeline near Sidr, 360 miles east of Tripoli, causing a massive explosion from the burning oil.

A high-ranking Libyan military official reportedly flew to Cairo to meet with Egypt’s military leadership, but the purpose of that meeting is not yet known.

Updated 9 a.m. ET, March 9

Fighting continued in Libya Wednesday near the oil port Ras Lanouf, as rocket and artillery exchanges highlighted the closely-fought battle between Moammar Gadhafi loyalists and rebel forces, who have struggled for control of the oil port city in recent days.

Meantime, there are conflicting reports of who is in control of Zawiya, 30 miles from the capital. A Libyan army colonel said on state television: “There are some rats that could be lying in some alleys and inside some flats. We are capturing them one group after the other.” Despite early territorial advances by the opposition, government forces appear to have dented the rebels’ progress with airstrikes and tanks.

Britain and France have suggested a no-fly zone over Libya, a move likely to meet resistance from Russia and China, which are both members of the U.N. Security Council. Gadhafi said on Turkish television that a no-fly zone would work to his advantage, because Libyans “would understand their real aims to take Libya under their control, to take their freedoms and to take their oil and all Libyan people will take up arms and fight.” Gadhafi claims Western powers are using the situation as an excuse to infringe on Libya’s sovereignty and control its vast reserves of oil.

President Obama is meeting with advisers on Wednesday to discuss possible responses, and NATO ministers are expected to convene on Thursday and Friday.

Updated 4 p.m. ET

In Zawiya, witnesses say that local hospitals have been inundated with dead and wounded as fierce fighting continues between Gadhafi’s forces and rebel groups trying to hold the city five days into a barrage from government forces. The city of 200,000 is located near Tripoli, the stronghold of leader Moammar Gadhafi. There have been conflicting reports about who has the upper hand in Zawiya as both sides launch attacks and counter-attacks.

Meanwhile air strikes continued against rebels trying to advance west, a route that is marked by open terrain. Despite the opposition’s momentums, the attacks by air have shown an advantage for Gadhafi’s troops that they did not have during early ground fighting.

Libyan rebel fighters run for cover Tuesday as an airforce jet drops a bomb on the outskirts of the oil-rich town of Ras Lanouf. Photo by Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images. Libyan rebel fighters run for cover Tuesday as an airforce jet bombs the outskirts of the oil-rich town of Ras Lanouf. Photo by Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images.

Updated 9:15 a.m. ET, March 8

Libyan government forces pounded the oil port of Ras Lanouf with fresh airstrikes Tuesday, with warplanes hitting at least five sites in the area. The strikes are part of a renewed effort to beat rebels back by air as they push westward on the ground trying to reach the capital of Tripoli. The airstrikes are also targeting a main highway toward Tripoli. The openness of the terrain has put rebel fighters at a disadvantage against the government’s airpower.

Thirty miles from Tripoli, there are witness reports that loyalists of Moammar Gadhafi have retaken the city of Zawiya after a barrage of artillery and that government tanks could be seen in the streets. Unlike the progressive momentum in favor of the opposition seen in uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, there has been a growing stalemate in Libya as fighting extends to a third week and anti-government fighters battle for territory.

The bloody crackdown has left other world powers scrambling to formulate a response to the crisis. The opposition has called for an internationally imposed no-fly zone, and while Britain and France have said they are drafting one for the U.N. Security Council, Russia has said it would oppose it and has the veto power to do so. NATO boosted so-called surveillance flights over the country, but while President Obama has said the United States was considering “potential military options,” no direct intervention appears imminent.

The upheaval has also raised concern over spiking oil prices. Libya normally produces more than 1.5 million barrels of oil a day.

Updated 2 p.m. ET

President Obama said Monday that the U.S. and its NATO allies are still considering possible military action as Gadhafi’s forces continue airstrikes and other retaliatory measures to try to beat back rebel advances. Anti-government forces have asked for a no-fly zone to protect them from the new round of airstrikes.

“We’ve got NATO as we speak consulting in Brussels around a broad range of potential options, including potential military options in response to the violence that continues to take place inside of Libya,” President Obama said, adding that the U.S. is stepping up aid money for groups helping refugees. Britain and France are drafting a U.N. resolution that could create a no-fly zone.

“We stand for democracy, we stand for an observance of human rights,” he said. “We send a very clear message to the Libyan people that we will stand with them in the face of unwarranted violence.”

The rebel groups advancing west are short on supplies and ammunition, as they’ve been met with harsh fighting and are further from the opposition stronghold of Benghazi.

Fighting continues in rebel-held Misrata and Zawiya and government-held Bin Jawwad.

Posted 9:30 a.m. ET

Libyan rebel fighters take cover as a bomb dropped by an airforce fighter jet explodes near a checkpoint on the outskirts of the oil town of Ras Lanouf on March 7, 2011.  (MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty Images) Libyan rebel fighters take cover as a bomb dropped by an airforce fighter jet explodes near a checkpoint on the outskirts of the oil town of Ras Lanouf on March 7, 2011. (Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images)

Moammar Gadhafi’s forces have launched new airstrikes on rebel positions in an attempt to block their advance westward, putting them at a disadvantage in comparison to ground fighting that has afforded the opposition territorial gains in recent weeks. Anti-government forces hold much of the eastern part of the country, Gadhafi is still in control of the capital, Tripoli, his hometown of Sirte and other areas in the west.

The lines have been hardened after initial protests have turned into a territorial stalemate. The airstrikes Monday targeted areas around the oil port of Ras Lanouf, the site of heavy fighting over the weekend. The oil port of Brega is currently under opposition control. There are reports that the town of Bin Jawad, 30 miles from Ras Lanouf, is under rebel control. The incremental battle for cities has taken a heavy toll, although the number of casualties is still unknown. There are growing fears of civil war as the battles stretch into a third week. An estimated 200,000 refugees have fled the fighting, creating a massive humanitarian emergency on the Tunisia border.

Gadhafi’s forces have also launched a counter-attack on the city of Misrata, a rebel-controlled city. Local hospitals reported heavy casualties.

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