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Under-pressure medics battling to cope with the increasing bombardment unleashed by Colonel Gaddafi are today understood to have fled hospitals in Ras Lanuf and Brega.

The doctors and nurses who have treated hundreds is not thousands of civilian casualties are reported to have evacuated the buildings amid ferocious attacks by the dictator’s forces.

Fighting accelerated on the main front line between the oil port of Ras Lanouf and the city of Bin Jawwad where the rebels appeared to be have established better supply lines bringing heavy weapons like multiple-rocket launcher trucks and small tanks to the battle.

Embattled autocrat Gaddafi again appeared to increase his aerial and ground attacks against a backdrop of possible international intervention in the paralysed country.

Rebels in Sidra were bombarded with shell attacks from war planes but the fighters responded with rocket-propelled grenades.

NATO said it had started round-the-clock surveillance of the air space over Libya, and British Foreign Secretary William Hague said a meeting of EU foreign ministers would discuss how to isolate the regime.

NATO member states will consider their options which include an attack on Libyan air defences as part of a strategy to impose a no-fly zone.

The zone could prove complicated in the politically sensitive region and could risk dragging the West into a protracted conflict in another Middle Eastern country.

Western forces would first have to destroy Libya’s air defences – which would be an effective declaration of war on Colonel Gaddafi.

The international Red Cross said that dozens of civilians have been wounded or killed in recent days in gruelling battles between Gaddafi’s army and the opposition movement trying to oust him.

Local doctors over the past few days saw  ‘a sharp increase in the number of casualties arriving at hospitals in Ajdabiya and Misrata‘ where there has been heavy fighting and air strikes.

Red Cross President Jakob Kellenberger said today that in Misrata 40 patients were treated for serious injuries and 22 dead were taken there.

He said the Red Cross surgical team in Ajdabiya operated on 55 wounded this past week and ‘civilians are bearing the brunt of the violence’.

He said the aid organisation is cut off from access in western areas including Tripoli but believes those are ‘even more severely affected by the fighting’ than eastern rebel-held territories.

Gaddafi stepped up attacks on the main front line between the Mediterranean oil port of Ras Lanuf and the city of Bin Jawwad as rebels looked to have cemented their hold with improved supplies.

There had been fears among Libyans that they would be virtually starved to death by the desperate leader who controls most of the resources around his Tripoli stronghold.

Youssef Fittori, a major in the opposition force, said a mix of defectors from Gaddafi’s special forces and civilian rebels were fighting government forces about 12 miles west of Ras Lanuf on the main coastal road to Bin Jawwad.

‘Today, God willing, we will take Bin Jawwad. We are moving forward,’ he said.

The resurgence in belief from the groups of Libyans who have formed armies and a National Council came as NATO announce that it is monitoring Libyan airspace.

The organisation said said it has  started round-the-clock surveillance of the air space over Libya, where government jets have been pounding rebel positions.

The first airborne warning and control plane went on patrol at 06:30 GMT this morning.

A NATO official says each of the Boeing E-3 Sentry aircraft will remain over the Mediterranean for eight hours before being replaced by another plane.

NATO has 17 E-3s. Several planes are currently operating over Afghanistan. The entire fleet is registered in Luxembourg, a country without an air force.

Later today the group will debate plans for a no-fly zone around the country.

Britain and France have backed the rebels’ calls for a no-fly zone, but the Obama administration has expressed deep reservations about involvement in another conflict in the greater Middle East.

France added to the pressure on Gaddafi by becoming the first country in Europe to recognise rebels trying to overthrown Colonel Gaddafi as the legitimate rulers of Libya.

The country called on European allies including the UK to do the same thing, so as to hasten the downfall of the hated dictator.

It followed a meeting in Paris between President Nicolas Sarkozy and the North African country’s provisional National Council.

Mr Sarkozy also pledged to send an ambassador to the rebel-held eastern city of Benghazi, where pro-democracy campaigners are massing to try and oust Gaddafi following 42 years in power.

In turn, the rebels will send their own ambassador to Paris.

Ali Al-Issawi, an envoy from the National Council who travelled to the French capital, said: ‘France has recognised the national transition council as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people.’

Mr Al-Issawi said the council would ‘open a diplomatic mission, that is our own embassy in Paris, and an ambassador from France will be sent to Benghazi. This ambassador will be in Benghazi for a transition period before returning to Tripoli.’

The fact that a powerful country like France now recognises the National Council as the legitimate ruler of Libya will be seen as a huge propaganda coup for the rebels.

Alain Juppe, France’s Foreign Secretary, has urged allies in the European Union to follow his country’s example.

Mr Juppe added: ‘We are on the same track to say Colonel Gaddafi is discredited, he must go, we must engage dialogue with the new Libyan representatives.’

And France’s neighbours Germany waded into the crisis with the announcement that they have today frozen the assets of the Libyan Central Bank and other state-run agencies in an attempt to cut off funding to the Gaddafi regime.

Economy Minister Rainer Bruederle said that the total amount blocked is ‘in the billions.’

He said: ‘The measures are a clear reaction to the developments in Libya – the brutal suppression of the Libyan freedom movement can now no longer be financed from funds that are in German banks.’