The Libyan military drove rebel forces back along the main coastal road on Sunday, ambushing the advancing militias as they entered the town of Bin Jawwad and pushing them out with tank fire and airstrikes, according to witnesses near the town.
The number of the casualties in the battle was unclear, but it set back the rebels’ advance just a day after they celebrated a major victory in taking the vital oil port of Ras Lanuf. On Sunday, rebel leaders said they were regrouping outside that city and would begin pushing toward Bin Jawwad again.
Just outside the capital, a standoff continued in the rebel-held city of Zawiyah, a day after forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi waged a heavy assault toward the city center and then pulled back to close off all roads out.
Rebels in nearby towns said that mobile phone service to Zawiyah had been cut off completely and landline service was intermittent, making it difficult to gather new information about the state of the siege. Second-hand reports through rebel networks on Sunday indicated Libyan army tanks had once again moved into the center of the town.
An hour before dawn on Sunday, Tripoli also erupted in gunfire, the sounds of machine guns and heavier artillery echoing through the capital. The spark was unclear — there were rumors of a conflict within the armed Qaddafi forces — but soon Qaddafi supporters were riding through the streets waving green flags and firing guns into the air. Crowds converged on the city’s central Green Square for a rally, with many people still shooting skyward. The shots rang out for more than three hours, with occasional ambulance sirens squealing in the background.
Government spokesmen called it a celebration of victories over the rebels, but the rebels denied any losses, pointing out that 6 a.m. Sunday is an unusual time for a victory rally and that rally was notably well-armed. Protesters in the capital suggested it was a show of force intended to deter unrest or possibly cover up some earlier conflict. A rebel spokesman, reached over the phone, said his leadership was relying on international media reports to try to make sense of the early morning gunfire in Tripoli.