Brussels: NATO has said it would take all necessary steps to guard civilians residing in west of Tripoli as their lives are under threat for openly challenging the Libyan regime.

"NATO is monitoring the situation closely and is taking necessary action to protect civilians," a statement said on Sunday.

The regime of Muammar Gaddafi said on Sunday its forces had eliminated rebel "pockets of resistance" at Zawiyah, west of the capital.

"Along the northwest coast of Libya, between Tripoli and the Tunisian border, Libyans long tired of Gaddafi rule are challenging his legitimacy openly, and in doing so, are under threat of attack," the NATO statement yesterday said.

"Earlier, east of Tripoli, an armoured vehicle with anti-aircraft guns was struck as it moved to threaten civilians, other targets struck in the area included a multiple rocket launcher and an anti-aircraft weapon system," it added.

Libyan government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim told reporters that Gaddafi's forces had "total control" of the area from Ajdabiya in the east to the Tunisian border in the west.

He denied reports that the rebels were gaining ground, while at the same time acknowledging clashes at Zawiyah but playing down their intensity.

"It is pockets of resistance. The rebels there are no more than a hundred. The army has killed some of them, captured others and is negotiating the surrender of others," Ibrahim said.