Cairo: The rebel forces of Libya which for weeks rapidly advanced on the capital Tripoli in a bid to oust Muammar Gaddafi are losing steam to the better armed government forces. Speeding down the key eastern coastal highway, tanks and artillery guns of Gaddafi's forces stormed into the city of Brega and are now within striking distance of the main opposition held city of Benghazi as the western powers were awaiting the nod from Arab League to enforce a no-fly zone over the strife-torn Libya.

Keeping up the momentum of their advance, columns of tanks backed by fighters and gunships entered the city of Brega, which was captured by the rebels just a week back after fierce fighting.

An Arab channel said that Gaddafi's forces were now in a good position to take on Benghazi, Libya's second largest city and the seat of the rebels' National opposition Council, which was recognised by France recently.

There were conflicting reports on Ras Lanuf, the main oil producing town, which saw pitched battle on Friday. After an intense fight, Gaddafi's forces held the town while the rebels occupied the oil terminals.

But in a fresh onslaught on Saturday morning, Gaddafi's forces made the rebel fighters to retreat by laying down heavy air and ground firepower.

The fall of the town was confirmed by Libya's former Interior Minister Gen Abdul Fateh Younis, who has defected to the rebels. But he vowed that his fighters would launch a counter-attack latest by Sunday.

The near rout of the opposition forces came as Arab League Foreign Ministers met in Cairo where they are predicted to back a no-fly zone over the country to ramp up pressure on Gaddafi.

Secretary General of Arab League told the channel that he wanted the pan Arab organisation to play a role in imposing a no-fly zone.

A sanction by the Arab League is likely to pave the way for the US and its European allies to go ahead with enforcing the zone, which effectively neutralise Gaddafi's air power.

A UN mission was also due in Libya to evaluate the country's humanitarian needs.

‘Noose tightening around Gaddafi’

As the sea-saw battle continued in Libya, US President Barack Obama has warned that "the noose" around Libyan ruler was tightening and said the international community had an obligation to prevent a Rawanda-style civilian massacre in the North African nation.

"Across the board, we are slowly tightening the noose on Gaddafi," Obama said at a White House news conference, which was dominated by the Libyan uprising and the Japanese tsunami tragedy.

In his first indication of a US tilt towards Libyan opposition, Obama said he would appoint an envoy to Libyan opposition forces as part of efforts to "change" the balance of the military situation in the war-torn country.
Outgunned and forced on the run, the rebels called for help from the Arab League as it met for key talks on the Libyan conflict.

In a letter to League Secretary-General Amr Mussa, they asked for recognition for their council and backing for a no-fly zone to help their battered force.

Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the head of the council, said there would be catastrophe in Libya if a no-fly zone wasn't enforced.

He also wanted restrictions on the Libyan leader’s ability to import weapons.

Libya suspends ties with France

Slamming France for its "illegal" decision to recognise rebels, Libya has decided to "suspend" diplomatic relations with France.

Speaking at a press conference, Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaaim said,        "We decided today to suspend our diplomatic relations with France. We will later appoint a country to represent our interests in France."

Kaaim said, "France's aim is solely to divide Libya."

Kaaim said the self-proclaimed rebel national council represented "nothing but itself. It was not elected. It does not represent the regions of Libya, not even in the
(rebel-held) east" of the country.

On the "secret" which Libyan state news agency JANA has said would lead to the fall of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has become a hate figure for Libya's regime, he said Tripoli did not want to interfere in France's affairs.

But he slipped in that "the judiciary only has to open an investigation on the sources of financing for the electoral campaign of the French President."

(Agencies)