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Gaddafis forces recapture Ras Lanuf

Tripoli/Washington: Hammered by Gaddafi`s tanks, heavy guns and rockets, rebel forces were in panicky retreat in east Libya on Wednesday, fleeing from the oil towns of Ras Lanuf and Brega prompting US and its allies to mull arming the ragtag fighters.

Having halted the rebels march 100 kms from their leaders hometown of Sirte, Gaddafi`s armoured columns chased the rebels right into Ras Lanuf, 370 kms west of the opposition stronghold of Benghazi, Al Jazeera reported.

Faced by a heavy barrage of shells exploding all round them, the rebel fighters fled on board pickup trucks reversing in advance triggered by heavy strikes carried out by French and British fighters on March 19.

"We can`t fight tanks with our machine guns," the Arab channel quoted opposition fighters as saying, as they beseeched for intervention by allied war planes.

"Tell Sarkozy and Cameron that we need help and without air strikes Gaddafi will massacre us," the rebel fighters said as Obama administration did not rule out the possibility of arming the rebels.

"I`m not ruling it out. But I`m also not ruling it in.

We`re assessing what Gaddafi is upto," US President Barack Obama said.

The US President said though the "noose" was tightening around Gaddafi, but they were still not signs that he was seeking to negotiating an exit from Libya.

"Our expectation is that as we continue to apply steady pressure, not only militarily but through other means, Gaddafi will step down," Obama said.

Correspondents on the frontline reported that the rout of rebels illustrating how much they rely on international power policy.

"Only a day earlier, they had been marching westward, cocky they would take Sirte Gaddafi`s main bastion in Central Libya. They reached 100 kms of the city before they were hammered by Gaddafi`s forces, who pushed them back to Bin Jawad," Al Arabia correspondent said from the frontline.

But now Gaddafi`s artillery is shelling even the key town of Brega.

As heavy battles raged on the eastern front, allied bombers and Tomahawk missiles kept up their pounding of the capital Tripoli.

Loud explosions rocked the city close to Gaddafi`s heavily guarded residence and the military targets in the suburbs of Tajura.

The first explosion was heard around 1630 GMT near Bab Al-Azizya district, which houses Gaddafi`s residence and few more exploded minutes later, the BBC correspondent in the city reported.

Heavy fighting also continue to rage around the western town of Misruta, Libya`s third largest city, which has been under siege by Gaddafi`s forces for the past two weeks.

Local residents said more than 150 people have been killed in the city after Gaddafi`s tanks stormed into the city centre.

The prospects of supplying heavy weaponry to the rebels has triggered a fierce debate in the US, New York Times said with some fearful that providing arms would deepen American involvement in a civil war and intelligence reports that some rebel fighters may have links to al Qaeda.

The debate has drawn in the White House, the State department and the Pentagon and has prompted calls for intelligence on whether some of the rebels waging a war with Gaddafi may have al Qaeda links.

The fears have arisen after a NATO commander Admiral James G. Stavridis told a Senate hearing that there were flickers in intelligence reports about the presence of al Qaeda and Hezbollah members among the anti-Gaddafi forces.

Eastern Libya was the centre of Islamists protest in the late 1990s, US media reports said it was unclear how many groups still retain ties to Al Qaeda.

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