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Rebel fighters were forced to give ground in Libya overnight as leader Moamar Gaddafi‘s jets pounded positions in and around the key oil hub of Ras Lanuf.

Fighting has intensified as the opposition forces move further west towards territory that is Gaddafi’s tribal land.

The attacks from the air have slowed rebel forces, but they have vowed to keep fighting once they regroup, recruit more support and get their hands on more weapons.

Libyan army troops backed up by fighter jets, helicopter gunships, rockets and artillery reclaimed control of the town of Bin Jawad and drove the rebel forces back east towards Ras Lanuf – the strategic oil town they captured on Friday.

Rebel numbers in Ras Lanuf are reportedly dwindling in the face of Mr Gaddafi’s air power, with opposition forces pulling back from the key oil terminal in the centre of town amid rumours government forces were gearing up for an all-out attack.

Fighter jets, attack helicopters and artillery were also used to strike the rebel-held towns of Misrata and Zawiyah.

Some rebel leaders say they will need more recruits from the east and heavier weapons before they can hope to renew their push towards Tripoli.

And even if they do, they are likely to face even stronger resistance.

Much of the terrain to the west is Mr Gaddafi’s own tribal area, where support for the Libyan leader is still solid and there is less chance soldiers there will desert to the other side.

Medics said at least 12 people were killed and more than 50 wounded in the fierce clashes at Bin Jawad.

Medics were forced to evacuate Ras Lanuf’s sole hospital and ferry the wounded further east into rebel territory at Ajdabiya.

The anti-government forces appear disorganised but determined. The ABC has been told the pro-Gaddafi fighters are not much better.

One rebel says attempts to continue to push towards the key town of Sirte will not be thwarted.

“There are two things we want to tell him. We swear we’ll enter Tripoli. Sirte is not a problem. We’ll enter Sirte. It’s easy,” he said.

“Tripoli is the goal and after we enter Tripoli you’ll see the real Libyan spirit.”

Mr Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, told French television Libya would descend into chaos if his father failed.

“Libya may become the Somalia of North Africa, he said. The terror will be next to your door.”

As the fighting intensifies, hospitals continue to struggle with the number of casualties.

Some human rights groups now put the death toll in the thousands since the conflict in Libya began three weeks ago.

But Moamar Gaddafi, also speaking on French television, has denied the number is anything like that.

“On both sides – the army and the police on the one hand and the insurgents on the other – a hundred people have been killed at the most,” he said.

As Mr Gaddafi’s aircraft continue to pound the rebels, there are renewed calls for a no-fly zone over Libya.

US president Barack Obama says military action against Libya remains an option and NATO has started 24-hour air surveillance over the country.

In Abu Dhabi, Gulf Arab states issued a statement voicing their support for imposing a no-fly zone over Libya.

“The Gulf Cooperation Council demands that the UN Security Council take all necessary measures to protect civilians, including enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya,” the six-nation bloc’s statement said.

But NATO secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen has told the BBC NATO has no plans to intervene and any such decision could only be made in accord with a UN mandate.

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