Government opponents in rebel-held Zawiya repelled an attempt by forces loyal to Muammar Qaddafi to retake the city closest to the capital in six hours of fighting overnight, witnesses said Tuesday.
The rebels, who include mutinous army forces, are armed with tanks, machine guns and anti-aircraft guns. They fought back pro-Qaddafi troops in Zaqiya, 30 miles west of Tripoli, armed with the same weapons, who attacked from six directions. There was no word on casualties.
"We will not give up Zawiya at any price," said one witness. "We know it is significant strategically. They will fight to get it, but we will not give up. We managed to defeat them because our spirits are high and their spirits are zero."
Similar attempts were made by pro-Qaddafi forces Monday night to retake the cities of Misrata, Libya's third-largest city 125 miles east of Tripoli, and Zintan, 75 miles south of the Libyan capital. Rebel forces in both places repelled the attackers.On Monday, pro-Qaddafi forces did retake control of the western border crossings with Tunisia that had fallen under opposition control, and CBS News correspondent Mandy Clark arrived as militia members scrambled to load anti-aircraft guns after government fighter jets bombed an ammunition depot in the rebel-held east. The Libyan Defense Ministry denied the bombing.
Qaddafi, Libya's ruler of 41 years, has already lost control of the eastern half of the country since protests demanding his ouster began two weeks ago. He still holds the capital Tripoli and nearby cities.
The witnesses said youths from Zawiya were stationed on the rooftops of high-rise buildings in the city to monitor the movements of the pro-Qaddafi forces and sound the warning if they thought an attack was imminent. They also spoke about generous offers of cash by the regime for the rebels to hand control of the city back to authorities.
Qaddafi has launched the most brutal crackdown of any Arab regime facing the wave of anti-government uprisings spreading quickly around the Middle East. But international pressure to end the crackdown has escalated dramatically in the past few days.Pentagon poised as pressure mounts on Qaddafi
The U.S. moved naval and air forces closer to Libya on Monday and said all options were open, including patrols of the North African nation's skies to protect its citizens from their ruler.However, the U.S. "does not want to go it alone here," notes CBS News chief security correspondent David Martin. "If there is chaos in Libya, the U.S. does not want to be the one country responsible for restoring order."
France said it would fly aid to the opposition-controlled eastern half of the country. The European Union imposed an arms embargo and other sanctions, following the lead of the U.S. and the U.N. The EU was also considering the creation of a no-fly zone over Libya. And the U.S. and Europe were freezing billions in Libya's foreign assets.
"Qaddafi has lost the legitimacy to govern, and it is time for him to go without further violence or delay," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said. "No option is off the table. That of course includes a no-fly zone," she added. British Prime Minister David Cameron told lawmakers: "We do not in any way rule out the use of military assets" to deal with Qaddafi's regime.
Qaddafi laughed off a question from ABC News about whether he would step down as the Obama administration is demanding.
"," he said. ABC reported that Qaddafi invited the United Nations or any other organization to Libya on a fact-finding mission.
Qaddafi's remarks were met with derision in Washington.
"," said U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice. She added that Qaddafi's behavior, including laughing on camera in TV interviews amid the chaos, "underscores how unfit he is to lead and how disconnected he is from reality."
On Monday night, an Associated Press reporter saw a large, pro-Qaddafi force massed on the western edge of Zawiya, with about a dozen armored vehicles along with tanks and jeeps mounted with anti-aircraft guns.
An officer said they were from the elite Khamis Brigade, named after one of Qaddafi's sons who commands it. U.S. diplomats have said the brigade is the best-equipped force in Libya.
"We were able to repulse the attack. We damaged a tank with an RPG. The mercenaries fled after that," said a resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of government reprisals.
He said Qaddafi called Zawiya's influential tribal leader Mohammed al-Maktouf and warned him that if the rebels don't leave the city's main square by early Tuesday, they will be hit by warplanes. "We are expecting a major battle," the resident said, adding that the rebels killed eight soldiers and mercenaries Monday.
Another resident of Zawiya said he heard gunfire well into the night on the outskirts of town.
In Misrata, pro-Qaddafi troops who control part of an air base on the city's outskirts tried to advance Monday. But they were repulsed by opposition forces, who included residents with automatic weapons and defected army units allied with them, one of the opposition fighters said.
No casualties were reported and the fighter claimed that his side had captured eight soldiers, including a senior officer.
The opposition controls most of the air base, and the fighter said dozens of anti-Qaddafi gunmen have arrived from farther east in recent days as reinforcements.