Libyan rebels today claimed they were less than 20 miles from Muammar Gaddafi's main stronghold of Tripoli, a day after opposition fighters launched their first attack on the capital itself.
Fighters said a 600-strong rebel force that set out from Zawiya has reached the outskirts of the village of Jedaim and was coming under heavy fire from regime forces on the eastern side of the town.
Murad Dabdoub, a fighter who returned to Zawiya from the front, said Gaddafi's forces were pounding rebel positions with rockets, mortars and anti-aircraft fire.
The rebels' arrival at Jedaim was also confirmed by Abdul-Bari Gilan, a doctor in Zawiya. He said he had treated a rebel who was wounded in the fighting at Jedaim.
In Tripoli, meanwhile, the city was largely quiet after a night of gunfire and explosions.
Libyan rebels yesterday said they had launched their first attack on Tripoli in co-ordination with Nato and gun battles and mortar rounds rocked the city. Nato aircraft also made heavy bombing runs after nightfall, with loud explosions booming across the city.
State Libyan television later aired what appeared to be a live audio message by Gaddafi in which he condemned the rebels as traitors and "vermin" who were tearing Libya apart and said they were being chased from city to city - a mirror image of reality.
"Libyans wanted to enjoy a peaceful Ramadan," he said. "Instead they have been made into refugees. What are we? Palestinians?" He called on Libyans to march by the millions on cities across the nation to peacefully liberate them.
Government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim appeared on Libyan television to deny there was an uprising in Tripoli.
"Sure there were some armed militants who escaped into some neighbourhoods and there were some scuffles, but we dealt with it within a half hour and it is now calm," he said.
The claims from both sides could not immediately be independently verified.
Tripoli has been Gaddafi's stronghold since the Libyan civil war began some six months ago, but it is not clear whether the embattled leader was still there.
The capture of Tripoli would almost certainly herald the end of Gaddafi's regime, more than 40 years after the maverick leader seized power in a military coup that toppled the monarchy of the vast North African nation.
Meanwhile, Gaddafi's son and one-time heir apparent Seif al-Islam delivered a similarly defiant message when he addressed supporters. He told them: "We are not surrendering; it is impossible to raise the white flag."
"Surrender or the white flag are rejected because this is not the decision of Muammar Gaddafi or Seif al-Islam, it is the decision of the Libyan people," he said.Reuse content