LIBYAN REBELS REACH TRIPOLI ENCIRCLE GADDAHFI …FIGHTING SPILLS TO TUNISIA
A Libyan rebel push towards the capital Tripoli has run into stiff resistance, as the Gaddafi regime renewed claims that it wants a ceasefire.
Buoyed by recent gains, the rebels took the town of Jaddayim but were forced to retreat when they reached Maya, 35km (22 miles) west of Tripoli.
A BBC correspondent said the lightly armed rebels are little match for government artillery.
The government accused Nato jets of working to clear a path for the rebels.
Heavy gunfire and several explosions were heard in the city overnight but rebel reports of a popular uprising inside the capital were not borne out, and support for Col. Muammar Gaddafi remains strong, correspondents said.
Rebel forces have advanced from the east and west in recent days as Nato jets pounded government infrastructure and material and Nato warships controlled sea routes.
Having spent the morning travelling with jubilant rebel forces out of in the west, the BBC's correspondent said their advance stalled at Maya.
They were met with very heavy incoming fire and ran back along the road, setting up a new front line a few kilometres out of the town, he said.
The rebels do not have heavy artillery and when they come up against Grad rocket launchers, for example, they do not have much to defend themselves with, he adds.
Since the reverse at Maya, Nato has reportedly launched air strikes in the area.
Hundreds of rebel fighters poured into Jaddayim on Sunday morning after heavy fighting for the town.
In the capital itself, four loud explosions were heard on Sunday morning following hours of sustained gunfire in the city.
There were overnight reports of protests and gunfire in areas to the north and east of Tripoli, including the Tajoura district, where there was trouble at the start of this uprising against Col. Gaddafi, BBC correspondent reported from the capital.
The most intense period of fighting came at around 21:00 local time (19:00GMT) but the level of gunfire was much reduced by Sunday morning, he said.
The overnight fighting was almost certainly opponents of Col. Gaddafi already in scattered parts of Tripoli rising up against pro-Gaddafi forces, rather than rebel forces advancing into the capital, the correspondent added.
Government officials said the attack was put down within half an hour and Col. Gaddafi congratulated his supporters for repelling rebel 'rats', while his son, Saif al-Islam, ruled out any possibility of surrender.
Information Minister Moussa Ibrahim accused Nato of 'opening the roads ahead of the rebels who are too weak to do anything themselves'.
Meanwhile, rebels battled for towns on either side of the besieged Libyan capital Tripoli on Saturday, and fighting spilled across the border into Tunisia, where Libyan infiltrators clashed with Tunisian troops.
Reuters reported that Tunisian security sources said their forces had intercepted Libyan men in vehicles with weapons and fought them through the night in the desert. They reported several casualties.
The six-month-old war in Libya came close to the frontier this week after rebels suddenly seized the coastal city of Zawiyah just 50 km (30 miles) west of Tripoli, surrounding the capital and severing its supply routes.
Gaddafi's forces west of Zawiyah and near the Tunisian border have been effectively encircled and cut off from their own supply lines. Tunisia has beefed up its army presence in the border area.
Residents of the southern Tunisian desert town of Douz told Reuters by telephone that helicopters were swooping overhead and troops had been summoned from nearby towns to subdue the infiltrators, who rode in vehicles without number plates.
The Tunisian security sources did not say whether the armed men were rebels or supporters of Gaddafi. Residents said they believed they were Gaddafi supporters.
Tunisian officials also said a Tunisian army helicopter had crashed because of mechanical problems in the border area, killing the pilot and co-pilot.
The siege of Tripoli and the prospect of a battle for the capital have added urgency to the question of Gaddafi's fate. The leader has repeatedly vowed never to leave the country. Rebels say they will not stop fighting until he is gone.
Representatives of the two sides held talks early this week in a Tunisian resort, attended by a former French prime minister, but announced no breakthrough. The severing of the road link between Tripoli and Tunisia makes further talks difficult.