Continued from page 1

On Friday, the fighters pushed in to reach Brega’s university campus, just outside the town’s oil port. Hassy said that if rebels retake Brega, they will bring engineers to repair any damage to the refinery and oil facilities there.

The rebels reached the outskirts of Brega, which has already changed hands half a dozen times since fighting began in early March, Hassy said. Explosions that appeared to be from new airstrikes could still be heard Saturday in the area.

Despite the strikes, the rebels ran into staunch resistance Saturday. Three of the six rebels killed were in a car that was struck by either a rocket or artillery shell near a gas station on the road about 24 miles (40 kilometers) from either city, said fighter Ahmed Bakir.

Ambulances streamed to an Ajdabiya hospital, where doctors treated fighters with severe burns or shrapnel wounds. Bloodstained bandages littered the area outside the hospital and workers hosed down a bloody stretcher.

The latest fighting in Brega pushed the rebels back to the town’s outskirts, said Suleiman Mohammed Suleiman, one of the opposition fighters who was shot in the leg while firing a heavy machine gun from the back of a pickup truck outside Brega.

Suleiman said the rebels could see Brega but were not yet inside.

The NATO-led air campaign has kept rebels from being defeated on the battlefield by the better trained and equipped government forces, but it still has not been enough to completely turn the tide. The rebels have been unable to reach Gadhafi’s heavily defended hometown of Sirte, the gateway to the regime-controlled western half of the country.

Previous rebel advances through Brega and its companion oil center of Ras Lanouf, another 60 miles (100 kilometers) farther on, have ultimately foundered as rebels overextended their supply lines and were routed by the heavier firepower and more sophisticated tactics of the government forces.

In contrast those previous charges and retreats in the past six weeks, the rebels appear to be trying a more gradual advance that might actually result in them holding territory.

At a two-day meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Berlin, the United States and its allies put up a united front on the goals of the alliance’s stalemated military mission in Libya, yet failed to resolve behind-the-scenes squabbling over how to achieve them.

NATO members agreed on paper that Gadhafi had to go to end the crisis, they also made clear that they would not be the ones to oust him.

___

Associated Press writers Ben Hubbard in Benghazi, Libya, and Maggie Michael in Cairo contributed to this report from Cairo.