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New this morning: Warplanes launch airstrike around key oil port

Photo by Ben Moseley

Photo by Ben Moseley

Libya - Libyan warplanes launched a fresh airstrike on rebel positions around a key oil port Monday, trying to block the opposition fighters from advancing toward Moammar Gadhafi's stronghold in the capital, Tripoli.

Rebels in the area said they can take on Gadhafi's elite ground forces, but are outgunned if he uses his air power.

"We don't want a foreign military intervention, but we do want a no-fly zone," said rebel fighter Ali Suleiman. He added that the rebels can take on "the rockets and the tanks, but not Gadhafi's air force."

Libya appears to be sliding toward a civil war that could drag out for weeks, or even months, as rebels try to oust Gadhafi after 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 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.

There were no casualties in Monday's airstrike on Ras Lanouf, which came one day after pro-regime forces pounded opposition fighters with helicopter gunships, artillery and rockets to stop the rebels' rapid advance toward 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.

Hundreds if not thousands of people have died since Libya's uprising began, although tight restrictions on media make it near impossible to get an accurate tally