Image: Pro-Gadhafi soldiers and supporters
Ben Curtis  /  AP
Pro-Gadhafi soldiers and supporters gather in Green Square in Tripoli, Libya on Sunday. Thousands of Moammar Gadhafi's supporters poured into the streets of the capital, waving flags and firing their guns in the air in the Libyan leader's main stronghold, claiming overnight military successes.
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updated 3/6/2011 7:38:43 PM ET 2011-03-07T00:38:43

Forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi, some in helicopter gunships, pounded opposition fighters with artillery, rockets and gunfire Sunday, dramatically escalating their counteroffensive to halt the rebels' rapid advance toward the capital.

They also battled to loosen the grip of rebels on two cities close to Tripoli. But in at least one case, their tactics appeared to lead them into a trap.

Residents said pro-Gadhafi troops punched into the city of Misrata, 120 miles (200 kilometers) east of Tripoli, the capital, with mortars and tanks but were pushed out five hours later by rebel forces. The rebel commanders intentionally opened the way for government tanks to enter the city, then surrounded them and attacked with anti-aircraft guns and mortars, said Abdel Fatah al-Misrati, one of the rebels.

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"Our spirits are high," al-Misrati said. "The regime is struggling and what is happening is a desperate attempt to survive and crush the opposition. But the rebels are in control of the city."

As fighting across Libya grew more fierce, the international community appeared to be struggling to put military muscle behind its demands for Gadhafi to give up power.

A small British delegation sent to talk to the rebels headquartered in the main eastern city of Benghazi, meanwhile, was arrested by the rebels themselves, who said the group had entered the country without permission. The rebels have set up an interim governing council that is urging international airstrikes on Gadhafi's strongholds and forces, though they strongly oppose foreign intervention on the ground.

Sunday's fighting appeared to signal the start of a new phase in the conflict, with Gadhafi's regime unleashing its air power on the rebel force trying to oust the ruler of 41 years. Resorting to heavy use of air attacks signaled the regime's concern that it needed to check the advance of the rebel force toward the city of Sirte — Gadhafi's hometown and stronghold.

Anti-Gadhafi forces would get a massive morale boost if they captured Sirte, and it would clear a major obstacle on the march toward the gates of Tripoli.

The uprising against Gadhafi, which began Feb. 15, is already longer and much bloodier than the relatively quick revolts that overthrew the longtime authoritarian leaders of neighboring Egypt and Tunisia.

Libya appears to be sliding toward a civil war that could drag out for weeks, or even months. Both sides seem to be relatively weak and poorly trained, though Gadhafi's forces have the advantage in numbers and equipment.

The conflict took a turn late last week when government opponents, backed by mutinous army units and armed with weaponry seized from storehouses, went on the offensive. At the same time, pro-Gadhafi forces have conducted counteroffensives to try to retake the towns and oil ports the rebels have captured since they moved out of the rebel-held east.

An opposition force estimated at 500 to 1,000 fighters pushed out of the rebel-held eastern half of Libya and has been cutting a path west toward Tripoli. On the way, they secured control of two important oil ports at Brega and Ras Lanouf.

If the rebels continue to advance, even slowly, Gadhafi's heavy dependence on air power could prompt the West to try to hurriedly enforce a no-fly zone over the country. The U.N. has already imposed sanctions against Libya, and the U.S. has moved military forces closer to its shores to back up its demand that Gadhafi step down.

Interactive: Libya uprising: The latest (on this page)

Enforcing a no-fly zone could take weeks to organize, however, and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has noted that it must be preceded by a military operation to take out Libya's air defenses. British Foreign Minister William Hague said Sunday that a no-fly zone over Libya is still in an early stage of planning and ruled out the use of ground forces.

Hague also said a small British diplomatic team sent to Libya to try to talk to the rebels left after it "experienced difficulties," but that another team would be sent. He told the BBC it would be inappropriate to comment on an article in Britain's Sunday Times that soldiers were captured by rebel forces when a secret mission to put British diplomats in touch with leading opponents of Gadhafi went awry.

Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga, spokesman for the rebels' provisional transitional national council, said eight people with British passports were arrested, including one who claimed to be a British diplomat. He said their departure was being arranged, and that they have "probably already left."

"The reason they were arrested is because they came into the country unofficially without previous arrangement with Libyan officials. Libya is an independent nation, and we have our borders that we expect to be respected," Ghoga said.

He added that there is "no crisis" between the council and Britain and that anti-Gadhafi forces are "more than willing" to talk to any delegation sent "in a legitimate way."

Hundreds if not thousands of people have died since Libya's uprising began Feb. 15 — tight restrictions on media make it near impossible to get an accurate tally. More than 200,000 people have fled the country, most of them foreign workers. The exodus is creating a humanitarian crisis across the border with Tunisia — another North African country in turmoil after an uprising in January that ousted its longtime leader.

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The turmoil is being felt more broadly still in the form of rising oil prices. Libya's oil production has been seriously crippled by the unrest.

On Saturday night, the rebels pushed to just 20 miles (30 kilometers) east of Sirte, but then pulled back about 90 miles (150 kilometers) to the town of Ras Lanouf for the night.

That night, pro-Gadhafi forces infiltrated the town of Bin Jawwad, on the road to Sirte, and set an ambush for the rebel forces when they returned at daylight. They also came under a barrage of fire from helicopter gunships, artillery and rockets. Associated Press reporters at the scene saw fierce battles raging throughout the day.

"We got thrown by bombs and snipers from the side roads that we can't see," recalled Jamal al-Karrari, a Libyan who abandoned his studies in the U.S. to join the uprising. "I didn't even use my Kalashnikov; I didn't find a target. All we were trying to do was escape and come back."

The rebels staged several offensives throughout the day, while unarmed spectators, many decorated with the rebel flag, cheered them on from the road. Each advance, however, was met with a withering barrage of cannon fire that threw the rebels back. The government also launched airstrikes against Ras Lanouf.

About 50 rebel fighters were trapped inside a Bin Jawwad mosque, and their comrades who had retreated to the edge of the city suddenly surged forward in 20 pickup trucks to try to rescue them. They drove straight into the bombardment and one of the trucks was hit, sending a huge plume of black smoke into the air. The rest of the convoy quickly retreated back to the edges of the town.

Rebel soldier Musa Ibrahim said Gadhafi's forces took hostages in the town in the morning.

"They took one of every family hostage to keep them from fighting," he said.

During the fighting, ambulances sped east toward a hospital in Ras Lanouf while rebel trucks, at least four of them mounted with multiple rocket launchers, raced west to reinforce the front lines.

Hospital officials said six people were killed in the fighting for Bin Jawwad and 60 were wounded, including a French journalist for France 24 TV.

In Misrata, a city about halfway between Tripoli and Sirte, residents said the rebels repelled a government counteroffensive to seize back control.

The regime forces attacked just before noon with tanks, mortars, artillery and anti-aircraft guns. A heavy gunbattle raged for about five hours and residents said they were choking on the smoke that clogged the air.

Abubakr al-Misrati, a doctor at a Misrata hospital, said 20 people were killed, 14 of them from Gadhafi's forces, and 100 injured.

Tripoli, the capital of 2 million, is the city most firmly in Gadhafi's grip. Residents there awoke before dawn to the crackle of unusually heavy and sustained gunfire that lasted for at least two hours. Some of the gunfire was heard around the sprawling Bab al-Aziziya military camp where Gadhafi lives, giving rise to speculation that there may have been some sort of internal fighting within the forces defending the Libyan leader inside his fortress-like barracks. Gadhafi's whereabouts were unknown.

Libyan authorities tried to explain the unusually heavy gunfire by saying it was a celebration of the regime taking back Ras Lanouf and Misrata, though both places appeared to still be in rebel hands.

After the gunfire eased in the early morning, thousands of Gadhafi's supporters poured into Tripoli's central square for a rally that lasted all day, waving green flags, firing guns in the air and holding up banners in support of the regime. Hundreds drove past Gadhafi's residence, waving flags and cheering. Armed men in plainclothes were standing at the gates, also shooting in the air.

Story: Serbia, arms dealer to Libya, silent on rebellion

Khaild Kaid, deputy foreign minister, claimed the government now held the cities of Ras Lanouf, Misrata and Zawiya, though rebels and residents said all were held by Gadhafi's opponents.

Kaid said government forces arrested 37 rebels. He said that Zawiya's rebels have used their families as human shields and that the army decided not to attack them.

Zawiya, just 30 miles west of Tripoli, is the closest rebel-held city to the capital. Residents there said pro-Gadhafi forces entered with tanks, anti-aircraft guns and mortars Saturday but retreated after a three-hour battle, and that rebels seized some of the troops' weapons and equipment. They said pro-Gadhafi forces had withdrawn to the outskirts of the city and were bracing for a new offensive. Most of the residents interviewed spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

"At the beginning (of fighting), our weapons were rudimentary. But every time they attack us, we seize their weapons," one rebel fighter said. He also said opposition fighters took hostages and shot and killed at least 10 of them in a hotel near the square.

___

Michael reported from Tripoli.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Fight for Libya puts civil war on path to Tripoli

  1. Closed captioning of: Fight for Libya puts civil war on path to Tripoli

    >>> of course, it's what's happening right now in libya , a major oil producer that is fueling the surging gas and oil prices . the battle for the country has raged for weeks and tonight, the fighting is intensifying. while also drawing closer to gadhafi 's hometown. nbc's stephanie gosk reports.

    >> reporter: in tripoli , an ecstatic pro- gadhafi crowd celebrated with gunfire. after state tv reported that victory would soon be theirs. but outside libya 's capital, the fighting tells a very different story. gadhafi 's forces are engaged in pitched battles with well-armed rebels who are, despite what the government says, still firmly in control of every major city in the east. today, pro-government militia unleashed an arsenal of heavy weapons . heller copter gunships, ar tilly and anti-aircraft guns.

    >> all i saw were bombs and bullets and we were trying to escape and come back and i was begging everybody to give me a ride. it was really scary there.

    >> reporter: gadhafi 's army ambushed the rebels in the small desert village of ben gentleman wad, forcing them to he retreat. even with today's setback, the opposition says it will march all the way to tripoli but they will have to pat through sirt, gadhafi 's hometown and stronghold. and the mostly inexperienced force is already taking heavy casualties. at a nearby hospital, the wounds are pouring in. before now the doctors here very rarely treated gunshot wounds , now, that is almost all they see. the intensive care unit, with only modest equipment, is overwhelmed. it isn't just fighters that are getting hurt in this violence it is also innocent civilians. this little boy is just 10 years old. he left his house when he heard the shooting and he got caught in the crossfire. there is nothing you can really do, is there? the fighting continues to the west as well. gadhafi 's forces tried again and failed to take the town of misrata. and in zawiyah, 30 miles from tripoli , heavy shelling and gun battles continued for a third day evidence of gadhafi 's failed attempts to take the city center litter the streets. still, his troops have not retreated. tanks ring the outskirts of town. across the country, the fight may not be going as well as the government says, but it is also far from over. stephanie gosk, nbc news, libya .

Photos: Libya's uprising against Gadhafi

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  1. People gathering in Benghazi, Libya in mid-February of 2011 as protest against the rule of Moammar Gadhafi grew, in part triggered by the arrest of human rights activist Fethi Tarbel. EDITOR'S NOTE: The content, date and location of this image could not be independently verified. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Buildings at the entrance to a security forces compound burn in Benghazi, Feb. 21, 2011. Libyan protesters celebrated in the streets of Benghazi, claiming control of the country's second largest city after bloody fighting, and anti-government unrest spread to the capital with clashes in Tripoli's main square for the first time. (Alaguri / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi speaks on state television. Feb. 22, and signalled his defiance over a mounting revolt against his 41-year rule. (Libya TV via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Libyan U.N. ambassador Shalgham is embraced by Dabbashi, Libya's deputy U.N. Ambassador after denouncing Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi for the first time during a Security Council meeting at the headquarters of the United Nations in New York on Feb. 25. Shalgam, a longtime friend and member of Gadhafi's inner circle, had previously refused to denounce Gadhafi. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Thousands of Libyans gather for the Muslim Friday prayers outside the courthouse in the eastern city of Benghazi on Feb. 25, 2011. Perhaps 8,000 people gathered for the midday prayers with a local imam, who delivered his sermon alongside the coffins of three men killed in the violent uprising that routed Gadhafi loyalists from Benghazi. (Gianluigi Guercia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Rebels hold a young man at gunpoint, who they accuse of being a loyalist to Gadhafi, between the towns of Brega and Ras Lanuf, March 3, 2011. (Goran Tomasevic / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Pro-Gadhafi soldiers and supporters gather in Green Square in Tripoli, March 6, 2011. Thousands of Moammar Gadhafi's supporters poured into the streets of Tripoli, waving flags and firing their guns in the air in the Libyan leader's main stronghold, claiming overnight military successes. (Ben Curtis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Rebel fighters jump away from shrapnel during heavy shelling by forces loyal to Gadhafi near Bin Jawad, March 6. Rebels in east Libya regrouped and advanced on Bin Jawad after Gadhafi forces ambushed rebel fighters and ejected them from the town earlier in the day. (Goran Tomasevic / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Libyan rebel fighters take cover as a bomb dropped by an airforce fighter jet explodes near a checkpoint on the outskirts of the oil town of Ras Lanuf on March 7, 2011. (Marco Longari / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Libyan rebels fire rockets at government troops on the frontline. March 9, 2011 near Ras Lanuf. The rebels pushed back government troops westward towards Ben Jawat. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Libyan government soldiers aboard tanks at the west gate of the town Ajdabiyah March 16, 2011. Libya's army pounded an opposition-held city in the country's west and battled fighters trying to block its advance on a rebel bastion in the east amid flagging diplomatic efforts to end the bloodshed. EDITOR'S NOTE: Picture taken on a government guided tour. (Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Libyan people in Benghazi celebrate after the United Nations Security Council authorized a no-fly zone over Libya, March 18. Thousands of Libyans erupted in cheers as the news flashed on a giant screen in besieged Benghazi late March 17. After weeks of discussion, the UN Security Council banned flights in Libya's airspace and authorized "all necessary means" to implement the ban, triggering intervention by individual countries and organizations like NATO. (EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A picture combo shows a Libyan jet bomber crashing after being apparently shot down in Benghazi on March 19, 2011 as the Libyan rebel stronghold came under attack. Air strikes and sustained shelling of the city's south sent thick smoke into the sky. (Patrick Baz / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Residents of Benghazi flee the city along the road toward Tobruk, in an attempt to escape fighting in their city, March 19, 2011. Gaddafi's troops pushed into the outskirts of Benghazi, a city of 670,000 people, in an apparent attempt to pre-empt Western military intervention expected after a meeting of Western and Arab leaders in Paris. (Reuters TV) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Vehicles belonging to forces loyal to Gadhafi explode after an air strike by coalition forces, along a road between Benghazi and Ajdabiyah March 20, 2011. (Goran Tomasevic / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. A rebel fighter carries his weapon outside the northeastern Libyan town of Ajdabiyah, March 21, 2011. A wave of air strikes hit Gaddafi's troops around Ajdabiyah, a strategic town in the barren, scrub of eastern Libya that rebels aim to retake and where their fighters said they need more help. (Finbarr O'reilly / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. A Libyan rebel prays next to his gun on the frontline of the outskirts of the city of Ajdabiya, south of Benghazi, March 21, 2011. The international military intervention in Libya is likely to last "a while," a top French official said, echoing Moammar Gadhafi's warning of a long war ahead as rebels, energized by the strikes on their opponents. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Libyan rebels retreat as mortars from Gadhafi's forces are fired on them near the outskirts of the city of Ajdabiya, March 22, 2011. Coalition forces bombarded Libya for a third straight night, targeting the air defenses and forces of Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi, stopping his advances and handing some momentum back to the rebels, who were on the verge of defeat. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. A Libyan man is comforted by hospital staff as he reacts after identifying his killed brother in the morgue of the Jalaa hospital in Benghazi, March 22, 2011. His brother was killed earlier in fighting around the city of Ajdabiya. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Volunteer fighters training at a rebel army training camp in Benghazi, March 29, 2011. Pro-government forces intensified their attacks on Libyan rebels, driving them back over ground they had taken in recent days. The rebels had reached Nawfaliya, but pulled back to Bin Jawad. (Manu Brabo / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Smoke billows as seven explosions were reported in the tightly-guarded residence of leader Moammar Gadhafi and military targets in the suburb of Tajura. Two explosions also rocked the Libyan capital Tripoli on March 29, 2011, as NATO-led coalition aircraft had been seen in the skies over the capital. (Mahmud Turkia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. A Libyan rebel urges people to leave, as shelling from Gadhafi's forces started landing on the frontline outside of Bin Jawaad, 93 miles east of Sirte, March 29, 2011. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. General Abdel-Fattah Younis, former interior minister in the Gadhafi regime who defected in the early days of the uprising, is greeted by Libyan rebels at the front line near Brega, April 1, 2011. (Altaf Qadri / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Libyan men show the V-sign for victory as they stand on the deck of a Turkish ship arriving from Misrata to the port of Benghazi who were evacuated along with others the injured in the fighting between rebel and Gadhafi forces, April 03, 2011. The Turkish vessel took hundreds of people wounded in the Libyan uprising for treatment in Turkey from the two cities of Misrata and Benghazi. (Mahmud Hams / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. A wounded prisoner from Gadhafi's forces is transported in the back of a pickup truck by rebels, on the way to a hospital for treatment, half way between Brega and Ajdabiya, April 9, 2011. Rebels say they took two prisoners after a clash with soldiers near Brega's university outside the government-controlled oil facilities, marking a noticeable advance by rebels. (Ben Curtis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. In this image taken from TV, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi makes a pubic appearance in Tripoli, April 14 2011. Gadhafi defiantly waved at his supporters while being driven around Tripoli while standing up through the sunroof of a car. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. A rebel fighter celebrates as his comrades fire a rocket barrage toward the positions of government troops April 14, 2011, west of Ajdabiyah. (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Gadhafi supporters hold copies of his portrait as they gather at the Bab Al Azizia compound in Tripoli, April 15, 2011. Rebels held much of eastern Libya by mid-April, while Gadhafi controlled the west, with the front line shifting back and forth in the middle. (Pier Paolo Cito / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Doctors work on a baby who suffered cuts from shrapnel that blasted through the window of his home during fighting in the besieged city of Misrata, April 18, 2011. Thousands of civilians are trapped in Misrata as fighting continues between Libyan government forces that have surrounded the city and anti-government rebels there. The Libyan government has come under international criticism for using heavy weapons and artillery in its assault on Misrata. (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. MISRATA, LIBYA - APRIL 20: Libyan rebel fighters discuss how to dislodge some ensconced government loyalist troops who were firing on them from the next room during house-to-house fighting on Tripoli Street in downtown Misrata April 20, 2011 in Misrata, Libya. Rebel forces assaulted the downtown positions of troops loyal to Libyan strongman Moammar Gaddafi April 20, briefly forcing them back over a key bridge and trapping several in a building that fought back instead of surrendering, firing on the rebels in the building and seriously wounding two of them during the standoff. Fighting continues between Libyan government forces that have surrounded the city and anti-government rebels ensconced there. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images) (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Libyan rebel fighters carry out a comrade wounded during an effort to dislodge some ensconced government loyalist troops who were firing on them from a building during house-to-house fighting on Tripoli Street in downtown Misrata April 20, 2011. Rebel forces assaulted the downtown positions of troops loyal to Gaddafi, briefly forcing them back over a key bridge and trapping several in a building where they fought back instead of surrendering. Two rebels were seriously wounded during the standoff. (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Rebels tread carefully as they prepare to invade a house where soldiers from the pro-government forces had their base in the Zwabi area of Misrata on April 24, 2011. (Andre Liohn / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Libyans inspect damage and an unexploded missile at the Gadhafi family compound in a residential area of Tripoli, May 1, 2011. Gadhafi escaped a NATO missile strike in Tripoli that killed one of his sons and three young grandchildren. EDITOR'S NOTE: Photo taken on a government guided tour. (Darko Bandic / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Moammar Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, center, leaves the funeral of his brother Saif Al-Arab Gadhafi, who was killed during air strikes by coalition forces, at the El Hani cemetery in Tripoli, May 2, 2011. Crowds chanting Gadhafi's name gathered in Tripoli for the funeral of his son and three grandchildren. (Louafi Larbi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Fleeing migrants and Libyans are seen on board an International Organization of Migration ship leaving the port of Misrata on May 4, 2011, as Gadhafi forces continued to pound the city. (Christophe Simon / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Libyan men watch as the main fuel depot in Libya's third largest city, Misrata, burns following a bombing by Gadhafi's forces on May 7, 2011. Libyan regime forces shelled fuel depots in Misrata and dropped mines into its harbor using helicopters bearing the Red Cross emblem, rebels said as they braced for a ground assault. (Ricardo Garcia Vilanova / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Libyan rebels celebrate near the airport of Misrata on May 11, 2011 after capturing the city's strategic airport following a fierce battle with Moammar Gadhafi's troops -- their first significant advance in weeks. (Ricardo Garcia Vilanova / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Women react after a protest against Moammar Gadhafi's regime in Benghazi, Libya, on May 16, 2011. Luis Moreno-Ocampo, prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, announced that he would seek arrest warrants against the leader of Libya, Moammar Gadhafi, his son Seif al-Islam and the country's intelligence chief on charges of crimes against humanity. (Rodrigo Abd / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Tripoli street in Misrata is seen from the terrace of a building used by Gadhafi’s snipers before the rebels took control of the area on May 22, 2011. The weeks-long siege of the city ended in mid-May and Tripoli Street was the site of the fiercest fighting in the battle and a turnin point in the war. (Rodrigo Abd / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. A rebel fighter gives water to a soldier loyal to Gadhafi after he was wounded and then captured near the front line, west of Misrata on May 23, 2011. (Rodrigo Abd / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. An uncle, left, prays over the body of one and a half year-old Mohsen Ali al-Sheikh during a washing ritual during the funeral at his family's house in Misrata, May 27, 2011. The child was killed by a gunshot during clashes between rebels and pro-Gadhafi forces earlier in the day. (Wissam Saleh / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. The body of a drowned refugee floats near a capsized ship which was transporting an estimated 850 refugees from Libya, approximately 22 miles north of the Tunisian islands of Kerkennah, June 4, 2011. At least 578 survived the sinking. (Lindsay Mackenzie / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. A photograph taken from a video by a National Transitional Council (NTC) fighter shows Mutassem Gadhafi, son of Moammar Gadhafi, drinking water and smoking a cigarette following his capture and shortly before his death, in Sirte, Oct. 20, 2011. (- / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. A photograph taken from mobile phone video of a National Transitional Council (NTC) fighter shows the capture of Moammar Gadhafi in Sirte on Oct. 20, 2011. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. This image provided by the Libyan Youth Group on Nov. 19, 2011, shows Seif al-Islam Gadhafi after he was captured near the Niger border with Libya. Moammar Gadhafi's son, the only wanted member of the ousted ruling family to remain at large, was captured as he traveled with aides in a convoy in Libya's southern desert. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: A photo said to show people gathering during recent days' unrest in Benghazi, Libya. The content, date and location of the image could not be independently verified.
    AP
    Above: Slideshow (81) Conflict in Libya
  2. Image: TO GO WITH AFP PACKAGE ON THE 40TH ANNIV
    AFP - Getty Images
    Slideshow (34) Moammar Gadhafi through the years

Timeline: Recent Middle East unrest

Explainer: Overview of Libya's oil resources

  • Image: A Libyan oil worker, works at a refinery inside the Brega oil complex
    AP

    OPEC member Libya is the 17th largest producer in the world, third largest producer in Africa and holds the continent's largest crude oil reserves. It normally pumps around 1.6 million bpd, 85 percent of which is exported to Europe and its output is equivalent to about 2 percent of global oil consumption.

  • Libya's place in the oil producing world

    How the country measures up in crude supplies and production.

  • Exports

    Before the war, Libya was a net exporter with domestic consumption estimated at only around 270,000 bpd.

    Europe was most affected by Libyan oil export disruptions. About 28 percent of Libya's oil went to Italy, 10 percent to Germany, 11 percent to China and France and 3 percent to the United States.

    Libyan oil accounted for about 23 percent of Ireland's oil and about 22 percent of Italy's, according to the IEA.

    Around 13 percent went east of the Suez Canal to Asia.

    The shortfall from the loss of Libyan output was covered by alternative sources such as Nigeria and Azerbaijan, which produce similar light crude oils to Libyan oil.

    Saudi Arabia also brought some it its spare capacity online, according to Saudi sources. The kingdom promised to fill any supply gap caused by the unrest in Libya although it produces heavier crude with higher sulfur content than Libya.

  • Infrastructure

    Reuters

    Oil fields
    Most of Libya's oil fields are located in and around the Sirte Basin, in the northeastern part of the country, which contains around 80 percent of the country's proven reserves.

    Other key areas include the Ghadames Basin, about 240 miles south of Tripoli and Cyrenaica Basin in the northeast and the Murzuq oil field in the desert in the south of the country.

    Libya has five domestic refineries with a combined capacity of 378,000 barrels a day:

    Azzawiya Oil Refining Co
    Sarir Refining
    Sirte Oil Co
    Tobruk Refining
    Ras Lanuf Oil & Gas Processing Co

    Ports
    Libya exported various grades of light crude from six major terminals, five of which are located in the eastern part of the country, where protests erupted near the second city of Benghazi.

    Following are the eastern terminals with pre-war loading volumes in January, 2011 provided by the IEA.

    Es Sider 447,000 barrels per day
    Marsa El Brega 51,000 bpd
    Ras Lanuf 195,000 bpd
    Tobruk 51,000 bpd
    Zueitina 214,000 bpd
    Zawiyah 199,000 bpd (January exports)
    Oother unspecified terminals 333,000 bpd

  • Companies

    Image: Libyan oil worker, works at a refinery inside the Brega oil complex
    AP

    Libya's state company
    Under the Gaddafi regime, Libya’s oil industry was run by the state-owned National Oil Corporation (NOC), which was responsible for managing exploration and production sharing agreements with international oil companies. Along with smaller subsidiary companies, the NOC accounted for around 50 percent of the country's oil output.

    Foreign players
    Major oil companies operating in Libya include:

    BP (Great Britain)
    ConocoPhillips (United States)
    Eni (Italy)
    ExxonMobil (United States)
    Hess Corp (United States)
    Marathon (United States)
    Occidental Petroleum (United States)
    OMV (Austria)
    Repsol (Spain)
    Shell (United States)
    Statoil (Norway)
    Wintershall, a unit of BASF (Germany)

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