Libyan jets pummeled rebel-held Ras Lanuf and took control of oil town of Zawiyah, amid growing global pressure on Muammar Gaddafi to quit as France became the first country to recognise the opposition National Council.
A steady volley of mortar and rocket fire rocked Ras Lanuf. "Pro-Gaddafi forces unleashed a savage counter- offensive against the town of Ras Lanuf," the Al-Jazeera said.
Fresh air strikes and shelling were also reported behind rebel lines in the port city. The fighting raged as rebels piled up pressure on the international community to impose a no-fly zone over Libya.
Forces loyal to Gaddafi were locked in fierce battles in several Libyan cities amid reports that the strategic oil town of Zawiyah had been recaptured by government troops.
68-year-old Gaddafi's forces claimed that they had recaptured Zawiyah, 50 km west of the capital Tripoli, after an intense fighting. However, the rebels rejected the claim. "There was no one in the streets, the town is completely deserted, and there are snipers on the roofs," a resident who fled the city was quoted as saying by Al-Jazeera.
France became the first country to recognise Abdul-Jalil's national council and will send an envoy to Benghazi, media reports said. NATO spy planes have mounted a 24-hour air space surveillance over Libya, as British Defence Secretary Liam Fox hinted that a no-fly zone could be enforced without wiping the North African nation's air defences.
Faced with mounting international pressure, Gaddafi dispatched an envoy to Greek capital Athens in a desperate bid to bring the European Union around to understand the Libyan government's position.
"It (imposition of a no-fly zone) has to be immediate action," Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, the head of the interim National Council in eastern Benghazi city, told CNN. "The longer the situation carries on, the more blood is shed. That's the message that we want to send to the international community. They have to live up to their responsibility with regards to this," he said.
Abdul-Jalil, the ex-Justice Minister, was among those who broke with the regime after the uprising against Gaddafi's 41-year rule began on February 15. He now leads the opposition's National Transitional Council, a 31-member group representing most regions in Libya.