Libyan rebels retreat east, fight on in oil town

Fri Mar 11, 2011 12:40pm GMT

* Main rebel checkpoint now 15-20 km east of Ras Lanuf

* Blasts heard, smoke plumes seen rising around town

* Other oil towns targetted, oil facilities in one hit

By Mohammed Abbas and Alexander Dziadosz

NEAR RAS LANUF, Libya, March 11 (Reuters) - Libyan rebels withdrew their last main checkpoint to the east of Ras Lanuf on Friday after forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi launched a withering land, sea and air offensive to retake the oil town.

Rebels at the checkpoint that is now 15-20 km (10-13 miles) east of the town they had controlled until Thursday said their forces were still fighting with Gaddafi's troops in the centre.

"This is our last checkpoint, ahead are clashes. The clashes are in the residential area," rebel Youssef Mohannad said.

A Reuters correspondent heard sounds of blasts and saw plumes of smoke rising in the direction of Ras Lanuf and also heard the sporadic rattle of machine gun fire, a day after Gaddafi's forces launched air strikes and moved tanks in.   Continued...

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