Major attempt to break Tripoli siege repelled

Cairo: Wary of US and NATO buildup off the Libyan shores, Mummar Gaddafi on Tuesday attempted to break the encirclement of his capital Tripoli using tanks and anti-aircraft artillery but his army was repelled in six hours of intense fighting by the opposition forces.

Throwing in his ultra loyal elite Khamis brigade and mercenary militiamen, Gaddafi attempted to retake the towns closest to the capital, launching a six-pronged attack with the support of jet fighters, al Jazeera reported.

But the rebels buoyed by defections from the Libyan army used tanks, mortars and machine guns to push back the attack on al-Zawiya town, 50 kms west of Tripoli.

There was no word on casualties, the Arab channel reported. Reports also said that Gaddafi`s air force jets bombed ammunition depots in the eastern part of the country which has totally switched sides to his opposition.

"We repulsed the attack. We damaged tanks and the mercenaries and the army troops fled after that," al Jazeera reported quoting local fighters.

Gaddafi even called the city`s influential tribal leader Mohammad al-Maktouf and said that if the rebels did not quit the city, they would be hit by fighter jets.

The opposition forces now labelling themselves as the `New Libyan Army` is growing in strength by the day because of defections of tens of thousands men from Gaddafi`s forces.

But the opposition commanders said it was impossible to say how many of Libya`s 76,000 personnel strong army has defected.

They said they have now access to large stores of weapons from looted military stockpiles or smuggled across the border.

The channel said the rebel soldiers had become much more organised and had set up a unified military council in the East.

"Small groups of rebel soldiers have volunteered to infiltrate into Tripoli to cause havoc and bolster pro-democracy groups," the channel said.

The pushing back of the Gaddafi offensive came as the US moved its naval warships and fighter planes into the Mediterranean and British Prime Minister David Cameron threatened Gaddafi with military action.

Speaking in the House of Commons, the British Prime Minister said "a no-fly zone" can be imposed anytime and his troops could be involved in peacekeeping in the strife-torn nation.

Cameron told the House that Britain and his allies were considering using fighter jets to impose a `no-fly zone` over Libya to patrol and shoot down Libyan aircrafts ordered to attack protesters.

The British media said the warning came amid growing concerns that the crumbling regime could use chemical weapons against its own people.

ABC News said that the amphibious USS Kearsarge armed with helicopter gunships, Harrier sea fighters and marines had set sail for the Mediterranean, in a move described by Pentagon as "tools to provide full range of options" to US leaders.

The channel also said that giant carrier USS Enterprise had also been kept on high standby alert in the Red Sea. These lethal warships could be used to enforce a `no-fly zone` over Libya.

US officials were tightlipped about the buildup of forces in the region merely saying it was "repositioning of forces" to provide options to President Barack Obama.

But the Libyan opposition forces denied that they had called for international intervention.

Defected interior minister told al Jazeera that welcoming foreign troops was out of question.