Libyan warplanes launched new air strikes Thursday against the key eastern oil port of Brega, a day after rebels drove forces loyal to leader Moammar Gadhafi from the city.
Witnesses say the strikes from Gadhafi loyalists targeted Brega's airport, near the oil terminal. Oil officials say Libyan oil production has been “halved” due to the nationwide unrest.
On Wednesday, opposition forces repelled powerful ground and air assaults as Gadhafi loyalists launched their first offensive against opposition-controlled eastern Libya.
Witnesses said pro-Gadhafi forces in a convoy of more than 50 armed vehicles stormed Brega, which lies on the Gulf of Sirte about 800 kilometers east of the capital, Tripoli. They quickly seized the city's oil installations, airport and port facilities.
News of the attack galvanized citizen militias in the nearby cities of Ajdabiya and Benghazi, who raced to the front lines armed with AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades and aging anti-tank weapons.
Opposition forces counterattacked by midafternoon, driving Gadhafi loyalists from the city. Doctors reported at least 12 dead in the fighting.
During the clashes, fighter jets also launched air strikes against anti-Gadhafi forces on the outskirts of Ajdabiya, home to a large rebel-controlled arms depot.
The fighting came as a self-declared “interim governing council” called for air strikes by outside powers against non-Libyan African mercenaries that rebel leaders say Mr. Gadhafi has used in his militias to put down the rebellion.
The Associated Press reported that the council formed Wednesday in the opposition stronghold of Benghazi. It reportedly named Mr. Gadhafi's former justice minister, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, as its head. A spokesman for the council said the body also wants foreign governments to deal only with Libyan embassies that have sided with the resistance.
Mr. Gadhafi delivered a rambling and defiant three-hour address on state television Wednesday, warning that thousands of Libyans would die if foreign forces intervene in the conflict. He called the rebels holding some cities “terrorists” and said loyalist forces would “fight to the last drop of Libyan blood.”
The beleaguered strongman, speaking to an audience that included dozens of his core supporters, ambassadors and foreign media, also offered concessions, including a blanket amnesty to rebels if they laid down their weapons.