Libya rebels flee Gadhafi assault as world debates

RAS LANOUF, Libya - (AP) - Moammar Gadhafi's forces hammeredrebels with tanks and rockets, turning their rapid advance into apanicked retreat in an hourslong battle Tuesday. The fightingunderscored the dilemma facing the U.S. and its allies in Libya:Rebels may be unable to oust Gadhafi militarily unless alreadycontentious international airstrikes go even further in taking outhis forces. Opposition fighters pleaded for strikes as they fled the hamletof Bin Jawwad, where artillery shells crashed thunderously, raisingplumes of smoke. No such strikes were launched during the fighting,and some rebels shouted, "Sarkozy, where are you?" - a referenceto French President Nicolas Sarkozy, one of the strongestsupporters of using air power against Gadhafi. World leaders meeting in London agreed that Gadhafi should stepdown but have yet to decide what additional pressure to put on him. "Gadhafi has lost the legitimacy to lead, so we believe he mustgo. We're working with the international community to try toachieve that outcome," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary RodhamClinton told reporters after the talks concluded. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said it "has to bemade very clear to Gadhafi: His time is over." But Germany andother countries have expressed reservations about the currentmilitary intervention in Libya, let alone expanding it. France has struck a more forceful tone. Defense Minister GerardLonguet told France-Inter radio that Paris and London believe thatthe campaign "must obtain more" than the end of shooting atcivilians. The rout of the rebels Tuesday illustrated how much they rely oninternational air power. Only a day earlier, they had been stormingwestward in hopes of taking Sirte, Gadhafi's hometown and a bastionof his support in central Libya. They reached within 60 miles of the city before they were hit by the onslaught fromGadhafi's forces, driving them back east to Bin Jawwad underbarrages of rocket and tank fire. Many of the ragtag, untrained volunteers who make up the bulk ofthe rebel forces fled in a panicked scramble. However, some of thembacked by special forces soldiers from military units that joinedthe rebellion took a stand in Bin Jawwad, bringing up truck-mountedrocket launchers of their own and returning fire. The two sides traded salvos for hours, drilling Bin Jawwad'sbuildings with shrapnel and bullet holes. The steady drum of heavymachine gun fire and the pop of small arms could be heard above thedin as people less than a mile outside the villagescaled mounds of dirt to watch the fighting. But by the afternoon, rebels fled further east, their cars andtrucks filling both lanes of the desert highway as they retreatedto and even beyond the oil port of Ras Lanouf, roughly 25 miles away. Some loyalist forces had reached the outskirts ofRas Lanouf, where the thud of heavy weapons was heard and blacksmoke rose from buildings. It was the second time in weeks that rebel forces have beendriven back from an attempted assault on Sirte. The last time,early in the month, it nearly meant the end of their movement: Theyretreated hundreds of miles (kilometers) west and Gadhafi forcesnearly stormed their capital, Benghazi, until the U.S. and Europeanstrikes began 10 days ago, driving Gadhafi's forces back frombloody sieges.

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