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Gaddafis forces press ahead to capture key Libyan towns

Tripoli/Washington: Undaunted by four nights of missile and airstrikes on his military, Muammar Gaddafi`s forces pressed ahead with their assault on key towns of Misruta, Ajdabiya and Zintan as US President warned that the Libyan ruler may try to "hunker down and wait it out".

The relentless allied attacks may have grounded or destroyed his warplanes and forced his forces back from the doorsteps of the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, government troops held on to the city of Ajdabiya withstanding waves of attacks by opponents.

But, his tanks and heavy artillery laid a siege on the embattled Misruta, the sole city held by the rebels in western Libya, and heavy shelling by his forces left more than 50 people, including children, dead.

Intense fighting also raged for the town of Zintan where outgunned rebel forces were repeatedly thrown back by government troops.

As loud explosions continued to rock the capital for the fourth night and flares from the firing of anti-aircraft guns lit the sky, the Libyan leader declared today, "We will not surrender."

"We will prefer to die like martyrs. We will defeat them by any means….We are ready for a fight, whether it is short or a long one…..We will emerge victorious at the end," Gaddafi said in a live television broadcast, making his first public appearance since the allied strikes against his country.

"This is an attack by Fascists who will end up in the dustbin of history," Gaddafi said in a speech made apparently from a compound hit by allied airstrikes on Sunday.

He concluded by saying, "I do not fear storms that sweeps the horizon, nor do I fear the planes that throw black destruction….My house is here in my tent….I am here. I am here."

He urged all Islamic armies to join him.

Al Jazeera said that the siege by Gaddafi`s forces of Misruta had almost entered the fourth week and the situation in the city was turning grim with shortage of food, water and medicines.

The Arab channel said that a similar situation prevailed in the eastern city of Ajdabiya, where neither side appeared to be making any breakthrough.

BBC said that divisions were appearing among the rebels, with some pressing for pushing on to Tripoli, while others wanted to take Ajdabiya and consolidate their hold in the East, hoping Libyan in other cities will rise up and liberate themselves.

Report said that rebels were taking shelter in sand dunes to hide from the tank fire and were without heavy weapons, leadership, communications or even battle plans.

The allies, though subjecting Gaddafi`s military command and control centres to ceaseless bombardments, are reluctant to commit ground troops or even special forces to help and guide the rebels.

They have also not so far responded to calls for airstrikes by rebels to help them overrun Ajdabiya and push back the pressure on Misruta.

Western warplanes have flown more than 330 sorties over Libya and more than 162 Tomahawks cruise missiles have been fired in the UN mandated mission to protect Libyan people.

As Gaddafi`s forces stepped up their assaults, US President Barack Obama warned that Libyan ruler may still hang onto power despite suffering strikes.

But, he declared that a military approach was not the only way Washington can push for his ouster.

The embattled Libyan leader "may try to hunker down and wait it out, even in the face of a no-fly zone," Obama told CNN.

"But keep in mind that we don`t just have military tools at our disposal in terms of accomplishing Gaddafi`s leaving," he added.

On a day when two US airmen bailed out over Libya and were rescued after the crash of their F-15 fighter jet, New York Times said that Obama and leaders of France and Britain had stepped up efforts to work out an accord who would be the in-charge of military operation once the initial onslaught on Libya`s air defence system was complete.

The American President has made it clear that US would step back from its lead role in operation `Odyssey Dawn` within days, but also admitted it was confronting the complexities of running a military campaign with a multilateral force cobbled together quickly and without a clear understanding among its members about their roles.

Obama expressed confidence that the coalition would resolve disagreements over the leadership role of NATO.

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