Libya revolt: Fresh air strikes in Brega

Rebel fires rocket at an air force jet near Brega - 2 March
Image caption Rebels have been celebrating their apparent victory against pro-Gaddafi forces

The Libyan oil terminal town of Brega has been targeted with air strikes, sources in the town said.

The strikes come a day after clashes between rebels and government troops in the town in which 14 people died.

Forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi took control there on Wednesday morning but were forced out by opposition fighters later in the day.

Col Gaddafi has lost control of the eastern half of Libya during two weeks of unrest but has vowed to fight on.

In a televised speech on Wednesday, Col Gaddafi also said that thousands of Libyans would die if Western forces intervened.

Humanitarian crisis

Thousands of people are thought to have died in the violence after security forces fired on demonstrators in the early stages of the protests.

The violence has led to a major humanitarian crisis on the Tunisian border, with tens of thousands of foreigners stranded and unable to get home.

Image caption Efforts to evacuate the refugees are frustratingly slow

Some 80-90,000 people have fled to Tunisia since the unrest began and tens of thousands more are waiting to cross, the UN says.

Until recently most of the refugees have been Egyptian, but more than 5,000 Bangladeshis crossed on Wednesday and there are also large numbers from East Asia.

The BBC's Jim Muir on the border says it will be a monumental task to get them home.

Britain, France, Spain and other countries are conducting emergency airlifts to evacuate those gathered at the border.

The World Food Programme has announced a $38.7m (£23.7m) aid programme for the 2.7 million people it says are engulfed in the crisis.

In other developments:

  • International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo has said that he will announce the names of between 10 and 15 Libyan leaders that the court intends to investigate for crimes against humanity
  • The Netherlands confirms three of its marines have been captured by pro-Gaddafi forces in Sirte while helping to evacuate two civilians
  • Libya's governing council rejects a peace initiative by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, but the Arab League says it is studying the proposal

It was not clear what was being targeted in the air strikes on Brega.

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Media captionJohn Simpson: "Rebels may head west against Gaddafi's forces"

"Around two hours ago, warplanes dropped a bomb in the area between the oil company and the residential area," hospital official Fattah al-Moghrabi said, quoted by AFP news agency.

"As far as I know, there were no casualties."

A rebel fighter said he had witnessed the strikes.

"I was here with my people, tightening security around the refinery, then we heard the sound of planes," he told AFP.

"It was one plane that flew over three times. I think it was a Sukhoi. The third time, it dropped bombs."

Rebels said planes had also bombed positions in Ajdabiya, a larger town further inside rebel territory.

The attacks came as rebels celebrated the outcome of Wednesday's fighting, in which they apparently cleared Brega of government forces.

Air strikes

BBC diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus says the fighting underscores the fact that neither side seems to have the knock-out punch capable of defeating the other.

Col Gaddafi appears unable to re-capture the eastern part of his country, and for now his opponents seem unable to mount a major offensive against Tripoli.

A stalemate on the ground in Libya could be a serious problem for international diplomacy, our correspondent says.

Rebels were reported as saying pro-Gaddafi forces had been pushed back to Ras Lanuf, another oil terminal to the west of Brega, but were preparing another attack.

They are calling for UN-backed air strikes against pro-Gaddafi forces, but Western officials are cautious of military involvement.

Our correspondent says that diplomatic measures against Col Gaddafi were intended to hasten his departure and express support for the Libyan people's aspiration for freedom.

But there is now a danger that, having been painted into a corner, the Libyan leader may have little option but to cling on to power for as long as possible, he adds.

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