BENGHAZI (Libya). Troops loyal to Muammar Gaddafi shelled an oil town in eastern Libya on Sunday, pounding pockets of resistance during their swift advance on the country's poorly equipped and loosely organized rebels.
Rebel officials in their stronghold of Benghazi told The Associated Press that Brega, the site of a major oil terminal, came under heavy shelling Sunday. Libyan state television reported that government troops had retaken the town, but the report could not immediately be verified.
Libyan TV has issued faulty reports claiming territory in the past.
The loss of Brega would be the latest in a series of setbacks for opposition forces who just a week ago held the entire eastern half of the country and were charging toward the capital, Tripoli. But Gaddafi's troops have reversed many of those early gains, bearing down on the rebels with superior firepower from the air.
The rebels are fighting to oust Gaddafi from power after more than 41 years, inspired by protesters who managed to topple authoritarian rulers in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt. However, the Libyan uprising has already proved much more violent, and could be the start of a drawn out and bloody civil war.
Gaddafi's forces pushed the front line miles deeper into rebel territory Saturday to just 25 miles (40 kilometers) outside Brega. Sunday's report declared the city has been "cleansed from armed gangs."
As the government gains momentum, the Arab League asked the U.N. Security Council to impose a no-fly zone. In surprisingly aggressive language, the 22-member bloc said Saturday the Libyan government had "lost its sovereignty" and asked the United Nations to "shoulder its responsibility" and impose the restriction.
The rebels have called for a no-fly zone as well, saying they are no match for the Gaddafi regime's fighter jets.
The U.S. and many allies have expressed deep reservations about the effectiveness of a no-fly zone, and the possibility it could drag them into another messy conflict in the Muslim world. Western diplomats have said Arab and African approval was necessary before the Security Council voted on imposing a no-fly zone, which would be imposed by NATO nations to protect civilians from air attack by Gaddafi's forces.
Also Sunday, residents reported fighting between government forces and rebels on the outskirts Gaddafi's territory in Misrata, Libya's third-largest city, 125 miles (200 kilometers) southeast of Tripoli. One resident, who did not want his name used because he fears for his safety, said the city is sealed but he can hear tanks, anti-aircraft fire and machine guns nearby.
A day earlier, the Libyan government took reporters from the capital, Tripoli, 375 miles east by plane and bus to show off its control of the former front-line town of Bin Jawwad, the scene of brutal battles six days earlier between insurgents and Gaddafi loyalists using artillery, rockets and helicopter gunships.
A police station was completely destroyed, its windows shattered, walls blackened and burned and broken furniture inside. A nearby school had holes in the roof and a wall. Homes nearby were empty and cars were overturned or left as charred hulks in the road.
Rubble filled the streets and a sulfurous smell hung in the air.
The tour continued 40 miles (65 kilometers) to the east in Ras Lanouf, an oil port of boxy, sand-colored buildings with satellite dishes on top.
The area was silent and devoid of any sign of life, with laundry still fluttering on lines strung across balconies. About 50 soldiers or militia members in 10 white Toyota pickups, holding up portraits of Gaddafi, smeared with mud as camouflage guarded it. A playground was strewn with bullet casings and medical supplies looted from a nearby pharmacy whose doors had been shot open.
On Saturday, Al-Jazeera cameraman Ali Hassan al-Jaber was killed in what the pan-Arab satellite station described as an ambush outside Benghazi.
Correspondent Baybah Wald Amhadi said the crew's car came under fire from the rear as it returned from an assignment south of Benghazi. Al-Jaber was shot three times in the back and a fourth bullet hit another correspondent near the ear and wounded him, Amhadi said.
"Even areas under rebel control are not totally safe," he said. "There are followers, eyes or fifth columns, for Col Gaddafi."