Fierce gunbattles in Libya

Cairo: Libya appeared headed for a protracted civil war as fierce gunbattles raged between troops loyal to Muammar Gaddafi and rebels in eastern cities today with Libyan jets pounding opposition-held areas, while machine-gun fire rocked Tripoli, the stronghold of the embattled leader.

Libyan jets targeted rebel-held areas Bin Zawad, oil port city of Ras Lanuf, Misurata and Az-Zawiyah, which lies just 50 km west of Tripoli, Al Jazeera said.

Amid conflicting reports, Libyan state television claimed that shots were fired in celebration of Gaddafi forces having regained control of the cities of Misurata and Az-Zawiyah, a day after anti-government fighters repelled repeated attacks by forces loyal to Gaddafi.

However, residents of Misurata said reports that the city had been recaptured were false, Al Jazeera said.

Faced with international sanctions, 68-year-old Gaddafi in an interview to French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche, warned of an "Islamic Jihad" if his regime continues to come under all round attack.

"I want an investigation team of the UN or the African Union in Libya. We will allow the commission to go on the field without any hindrance," he said.

More than two weeks since the uprising began against Gaddafi`s 41-year rule, heavy gunfire was heard in the capital today.

The gunfire began at about 0545 local time (0915 IST), BBC reported. The machine-gun and heavy weapons fire could be heard across the city.

Anti-Gaddafi rebels have taken much of the country in the revolt that began on February 15 and have repeatedly denied government claims they have lost towns.

BBC said Tobruk and Ras Lanuf remain in rebel hands.

State TV showed pictures of tanks, armoured-personnel carriers and other weapons it said were seized on Saturday from rebels in Az-Zawiyah.

But witnesses told Al Jazeera that rebel forces were able to repel heavy government assaults on their positions on Saturday.

It said more than 30 people were killed and as many as 200 people injured in the violence.

While Benghazi, the country`s second largest city, is in the hands of anti-Gaddafi forces, Libyan military was moving fast to oust the opposition, reports said.

In his interview to the French journal, Gaddafi said he favoured France "coordinating and leading" the investigative body.

"France should have been the first to send a commission of inquiry. I hope that it will change its attitude towards us," he said.

Gaddafi warned that the unrest in Libya would have serious consequences for Europe. "Thousands of people will invade Europe from Libya. And there will be nobody to stop them."

He also claimed that al-Qaeda was behind the protests against his regime. "There will be an Islamic Jihad in front of you, in the Mediterranean … People of (Osama) bin Laden will impose ransom on land and sea… This will really be a global emergency and a disaster for everybody," he told the paper.

"They will attack the US Sixth Fleet. There will be acts of piracy here at your gates, about 50 kilometres from your borders," he was quoted as saying.

Separately, Gaddafi was quoted as saying by London`s `The Sunday Times` that he would not leave his hometown to live abroad in exile.

On efforts by British Premier David Cameron and other Western powers to freeze his family`s assets, he was quoted as saying: "I challenge Cameron and everybody else if he can bring one dinar that belongs to me in any foreign bank."

In the eastern part of the country, the rebels said they were advancing westwards on Sirte, the heavily-defended hometown of Gaddafi, according to BBC.

After taking the oil terminal port of Ras Lanuf in heavy fighting on Friday, rebel forces had entered the town of Bin Jawad, 160 kms from Sirte.

The fighting and explosions yesterday in the rebel-held territory had claimed 74 lives in Libya, where the UN says more than 1,000 people have died since the revolt began in mid-February.

Rebels said that they had formed local councils in cities they control in the eastern region with an aim to lead the nation into elections, local media reports said.

As ding-dong heavy battles continued across the country, the US and NATO warships and fighters were positioned off the strife-torn country`s coast.

US President Barack Obama has said that their primary mission is to undertake humanitarian evacuation, "but all options are on the table."