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The government claimed that “99 percent” of Zawiya was under its control.

“The situation in Zawiya is quiet and peaceful right now,” deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Qaid told reporters Saturday in Tripoli. “We hope by tomorrow morning life will be back to normal.”

The anti-Gadhafi rebels fared better elsewhere, capturing the key oil port of Ras Lanouf on Friday night, their first military victory in a potentially long and arduous march from the east of the country to Tripoli.

Witnesses said Ras Lanouf, about 90 miles (140 kilometers) east of Sirte, fell to rebel hands on Friday night after a fierce battle with pro-regime forces who later fled.

An Associated Press reporter who arrived in Ras Lanouf Saturday morning saw Libya’s red, black and green pre-Gadhafi monarchy flag, which has been adopted by the rebels, hoisted over the town’s oil facilities.

One of the rebels, Ahmed al-Zawi, said the battle was won after Ras Lanouf residents joined the rebels.

Al-Zawi, who participated in the fighting, said 12 rebels were killed in the fighting, in which rocket-propelled grenades and anti-aircraft guns were used.

Officials at a hospital in the nearby city of Ajdabiya, however, said only five rebels were killed and 31 wounded in the attack. The discrepancy in the figures could not immediately be explained.

“They just follow orders. After a little bit of fighting, they run away,” said another rebel at Ras Lanouf, Borawi Saleh, an 11-year veteran of the army who is now an oil company employee.

A witness in Ajdabiya said rebels had begun their march toward Sirte, advancing 50 miles (80 kilometers) to the town of Nawfaliyah. The witness said he was going to join them and expected fierce fighting with pro-Gadhafi forces trying to stop them from going farther.

Also Saturday, a Libyan jet fighter has crashed near Ras Lanouf, witnesses said, displaying pictures showing the pilot’s body and twisted wreckage from the plane. The cause of Saturday’s crash couldn’t immediately be determined.

Pro-Gadhafi forces have launched a number of airstrikes against rebel targets as they seek to put down the 19-day-old rebellion.

Farther east, a large arms and ammunition depot outside Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city, blew up Friday in a massive explosion that completely destroyed an area three times the size of a soccer field.

Ambulance drivers told AP Television News that at least 26 people had been killed in the blast, which flattened entire buildings, cars and trees. It also deprived the rebels of arms and ammunition needed to fight their way westward toward Sirte on the Mediterranean coast.

It was not immediately clear how the depot blew up, but suspicion immediately fell on Gadhafi agents.

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