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Libyan rebels lose oil city

world Updated: Mar 12, 2011 23:36 IST

Reuters
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Libyan troops forced rebels to retreat overnight from the outskirts of the oil town of Ras Lanuf, pushing the front line eastwards, a rebel officer said on Saturday.

The front line now stands just between the rebel-held town of Uqaylah and Ras Lanuf, where oil storage tanks were hit during Friday's fighting. Rebels blamed an air strike but the government denied hitting the oil plant.

"We're out of Ras Lanuf. They've beaten us back with bombardment," said rebel Colonel Bashir Abudl Qadr. "We've moved back 20 km from last night because we are also afraid the refinery will explode."

There were two air strikes and three bombs exploded close to a checkpoint near the town of Uqaylah, 40 km from Ras Lanuf, unsettling the rebels who moved off the road and into the desert.

The colonel said that, according to engineers, the refinery will blow up in the next five days due to the damage sustained in the operation to retake the town with a fierce land, sea and air assault. This could not be independently corroborated.

Rebels, armed mainly with anti-aircraft and anti-tank guns, rocket propelled grenade launchers and light weapons, fought back to hold Ras Lanuf, about 590 km east of Tripoli, but were overwhelmed by Gaddafi's firepower.