- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 9, 2011

RAS LANOUF, Libya (AP) — Forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi struck an oil pipeline and oil storage facility Wednesday as they pounded rebels with artillery and gunfire in at least two major cities, killing four people, officials said.

Col. Gadhafi appeared to be keeping up the momentum he has seized in recent days in his fight against rebels trying to move on the capital, Tripoli, from territory they hold in eastern Libya.

An Associated Press reporter near the front saw an explosion with a giant yellow fireball from the area of the Sidr oil facility, 360 miles east of Tripoli. Three columns of thick smoke rose from the area, apparently from burning oil.

Mustafa Gheriani, an opposition spokesman, says government artillery hit a pipeline supplying Sidr from oil fields in the desert. He says an oil storage depot was also hit, apparently by an airstrike.

Also Wednesday, a high-ranking member of the Libyan military flew to Cairo with a message for Egyptian army officials from Gadhafi, but no further details were known.

Col. Gadhafi’s successes have left Western powers struggling to come up with a plan to support the rebels without becoming ensnared in the complex and fast-moving conflict.

President Obama’s most senior advisers were meeting Wednesday to outline what steps are realistic and possible to pressure Col. Gadhafi to halt the violence and give up power.

They planned to examine the ramifications of a no-fly zone over Libya and other potential military options, U.S. officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal administration deliberations.

Britain and France are pushing for the U.N. to create a no-fly zone over the country, and while the U.S. may be persuaded to sign on, such a move is unlikely to win the backing of veto-wielding Security Council members Russia and China, which traditionally object to such steps as infringements on national sovereignty.

The two sides in Libya traded barrages of artillery shells and rockets Wednesday afternoon about 12 miles west of the oil port of Ras Lanouf, an indication that regime forces were much closer than previously known to that city. Ras Lanouf is the westernmost point seized by rebels moving along the country’s main highway on the Mediterranean coast.

Four bodies were brought to the morgue at the hospital in Ras Lanouf, doctors said.

Warplanes streaked overhead and a yellow fireball erupted at or near the location of a small oil terminal. Pillars of black smoke also rose from the direction of the town of Bin Jawwad, about 40 miles to the west.

Rebels also hold territory south of Tripoli and homes and other buildings in the city of Zawiya were shelled Wednesday by government forces, a resident of the nearby town of Sabratha told the Associated Press by telephone.

A Sky News correspondent in Zawiya showed rebel-controlled tanks and vehicles mounted with machine guns in the city’s main square, and said pro-Gadhafi forces at the city’s edge were firing at moving vehicles, including ambulances and civilian cars.

In Cairo, an Egyptian army official told the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity that Maj. Gen. Abdul-Rahman bin Ali al-Saiid al-Zawi, the head of Libya’s logistics and supply authority, was asking to meet Egypt’s military rulers.

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