Forces loyal to Libya's leader Moammar Gadhafi attacked anti-government forces in a north-central coastal town Wednesday, and there were conflicting reports about which side was in control of the area.
Witnesses said pro-Gadhafi forces stormed into Brega and briefly seized its oil installations along with an airstrip. Opposition fighters say they later recaptured both sites. Al Arabiya TV indicated that Gadhafi loyalists continued to hold the airport, outside Brega, but had failed to take the city center. Reporters later heard a loud explosion in the city.
Elsewhere, supporters cheered the embattled Libyan leader as he addressed a gathering in Tripoli.
Colonel Gadhafi argued during a rambling speech that he had given up power to the people in 1977, repeating his assertion that he holds no official position in the government from which to resign.
The Libyan leader blamed al-Qaida for "fighting and killing people" in his country, and claimed that a one-time Guantanamo Bay prisoner is behind an Islamic insurgency in the eastern town of Dirna.
He alleged that sleeper cells belonging to al-Qaida have returned from abroad and are attacking military units.
He warned against U.S. or NATO intervention in Libya. He insisted that there is no popular uprising, but rather a plot to control Libyan oil. Gadhafi said he plans to fight this plot to the last man and woman across all of Libya.
In addition to the assault on Brega, witnesses say military forces carried out air strikes on the town of Ajdabiya, which is between Brega and insurgent-controlled Benghazi. The French Press Agency reported that Libyan warplanes bombed either an arms depot or a military base in Ajdabiya.
Two U.S. warships were heading through the Suez Canal in the direction of Libya. U.S. military sources indicated that the ships are being deployed to support humanitarian efforts related to the refugee crisis.
Al Jazeera TV showed people pouring over a border fence between Libya and Tunisia Wednesday. A UNHCR official at the border described the situation as "catastrophic" and a Tunisian medical official indicated that supplies were running short.
Meanwhile, Arab League head Amr Moussa called the situation in Libya "catastrophic and unacceptable." Arab League foreign ministers met in Cairo, urging Libya to "make the hard decisions" necessary to "prevent further suffering."