Libyan government warplanes have struck an oil facility near the rebel-held eastern town of Ras Lanuf during a heavy bombardment aimed at driving out opposition forces trying to topple Libya’s leader Moammar Gadhafi.
The warplanes bombed the As Sidr oil facility Wednesday, causing a fire and sending huge plumes of smoke into the sky. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
Forces loyal to Gadhafi also shelled rebel positions west of Ras Lanuf, forcing the rebels to retreat. The oil port represents the front line of the rebels’ advance out of their stronghold of eastern Libya.
Libyan government forces also were tightening their siege of the western town of Zawiya, the closest rebel-held area to Gadhafi’s power base in the Libyan capital, Tripoli. Residents said Gadhafi loyalists were surrounding rebels holding out in Zawiya’s central square, using snipers and tanks in the assault.
In remarks broadcast on state television Wednesday, Gadhafi called on residents of eastern Libya to liberate the region from the control of rebels whom he said were under the influence of al-Qaida. Anti-government protesters backed by defecting army units seized eastern Libya last month at the start of an uprising against Gadhafi’s 42-year rule.
In a separate interview with Turkey’s state-run TRT television, Gadhafi accused Western powers of plotting a military intervention in Libya in order to steal its oil. He also said that if al-Qaida seizes Libya, the “entire region, including Israel, will be dragged into chaos.”
Egyptian officials say a Gadhafi representative responsible for logistics and supplies flew to Cairo aboard a private Libyan plane Wednesday. There have been no public contacts between the Libyan government and the leadership of its eastern neighbor, Egypt, since the Libyan revolt began.
An Egyptian army official told the Associated Press that Egyptian Maj. Gen. Abdul-Rahman bin Ali al-Saiid al-Zawi was asking to meet Egypt’s military rulers.