Oil installations ablaze in Libya as battles rage

RAS LANOUF, Libya (AP) — A giant yellow fireball shot into the sky, trailed by thick plumes of black smoke Wednesday after fighting between rebels and forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi set two oil installations ablaze and inflicted yet more damage on Libya’s crippled energy industry.

In the west, Gadhafi claimed victory in recapturing Zawiya, the city closest to the capital that had fallen into opposition hands. The claim could not immediately be verified; phone lines there have not been working during a deadly, six-day siege.

State TV showed a crowd of hundreds, purportedly in Zawiya’s main square, shouting “The people want Colonel Gadhafi!”

The fall of Zawiya to anti-Gadhafi residents early on in the uprising that began Feb. 15 illustrated the initial, blazing progress of the opposition. But Gadhafi has seized the momentum, battering the rebels with airstrikes and artillery fire and repulsing their westward march toward the capital, Tripoli.

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. On 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.

President Barack Obama’s most senior advisers met Wednesday to outline possible steps to pressure 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 condition of anonymity to discuss internal administration deliberations.

A rebel spokesman said Wednesday they will buy weapons if the international community fails to declare a no-fly zone.

“If a no-fly zone is not imposed, we do have the means to get armaments. We don’t expect any country to refuse to deal with us in terms of an arms sale,” said Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga, a spokesman for the rebels’ provisional transitional national council.

He did not elaborate or say where the rebels would get the money for arms.

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.

Gadhafi said in a Turkish television interview that Libyans would fight back if Western nations imposed a no-fly zone to prevent his regime from using its air force to bomb government opponents staging a rebellion.

He said imposing the restrictions would prove the West’s real intention was to seize his country’s oil wealth.

“Such a situation would be useful,” Gadhafi said. “The Libyan people would understand their real aims to take Libya under their control, to take their freedoms and to take their oil and all Libyan people will take up arms and fight.”

In eastern Libya, an Associated Press reporter at Ras Lanouf near the front line of fighting saw an explosion 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, said the government artillery hit a pipeline supplying Sidr from oil fields in the desert. An oil storage depot also was hit, apparently by an airstrike, he said.

Gheriani accused Gadhafi forces of intentionally targeting oil facilities as a warning to Europe that the chaos in Libya will hurt oil supplies.

“Gadhafi thinks he can put pressure on Europe, but I think this is just going to work against him,” Gheriani told the AP.

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