Gadhafi troops advance as Arab League calls for help
RAS LANOUF, Libya -- The world moved a step closer to a decision on imposing a no-fly zone over Libya but Moammar Gadhafi was swiftly advancing Saturday on the poorly equipped and loosely organized rebels who have seized much of the country.
Gadhafi's forces pushed the front line miles deeper into rebel territory and violence erupted at the front door of the opposition stronghold in eastern Libya, where an Al-Jazeera cameraman slain in an ambush became the first journalist killed in the nearly monthlong conflict.
In Cairo, the Arab League asked the U.N. Security Council to impose a no-fly zone to protect the rebels, increasing pressure on the U.S. and other Western powers to take action that most have expressed deep reservations about.
In surprisingly swift action and aggressive language, the 22-member Arab bloc said after an emergency meeting that the Libyan government had "lost its sovereignty." It asked the United Nations to "shoulder its responsibility ... to impose a no-fly zone over the movement of Libyan military planes and to create safe zones in the places vulnerable to airstrikes."
Western diplomats have said Arab and African approval was necessary before the Security Council voted on imposing a no-fly zone, which would be imposed by NATO nations such as the U.S., France, Britain and Italy to protect civilians from air attack by Gadhafi's forces.
The U.S. and other countries have expressed deep reservations about the effectiveness of a no-fly zone and the possibility it could drag them into another messy conflict in the Muslim world.
Gen. Abdel-Fattah Younis, the country's interior minister before defecting, said that Gadhafi's forces had driven further into rebel territory than at any time since the opposition seized control of the east.
He said they were about 50 miles past the fiercely contested oil port of Ras Lanouf and about 25 miles outside Brega, the site of a major oil terminal.
The defeat at Ras Lanouf, which had been captured by rebels a week ago and only fell after days of fierce fighting and shelling, was a major setback for opposition forces who just a week ago held the entire eastern half of the country and were charging toward the capital.
A massive column of black smoke billowed from Ras Lanouf's blazing oil refinery. A Libyan colonel asserted the rebels had detonated it as they retreated.
Government forces also have recaptured the strategic town of Zawiya, near Tripoli, sealing off a corridor around the capital, which has been Gadhafi's main stronghold.