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Libyan Rebels Continue Push Westward

Rebels travel in a convoy on their way to Sirte city near Bin Jawad, March 28, 2011

Rebels travel in a convoy on their way to Sirte city near Bin Jawad, March 28, 2011

Libyan rebel forces on Monday continued their westward push toward Moammar Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte, where a key battle looms for the government stronghold.

Aided by international airstrikes, the rebels are advancing toward the capital Tripoli and have retaken areas given over to government troops before the West imposed a no-fly zone on March 19

Qatar on Monday became the first Arab nation to recognize the rebels as having the sole legitimate right to lead Libya. Qatar is also participating with Western nations in imposing airstrikes on Libya.

Allied airstrikes targeted Sirte for the first time late Sunday, after rebels recaptured vast amounts of territory, including the key oil towns of Brega and Ras Lanuf.

A heavy bombardment also rocked the capital, Tripoli, late Sunday, with numerous loud explosions and anti-aircraft fire heard. Libyan state television later confirmed air raids on both Sirte and Tripoli.

By Sunday evening, anti-Gadhafi fighters had also taken control of the eastern town of Bin Jawad. The town is the farthest point west that opposition fighters had reached before a government counter-offensive pushed them back early this month.

The rebels are trying to end Gadhafi's 42-year rule.

NATO announced Sunday it will take full command of all international military operations in Libya, including airstrikes. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance's 28 members will begin executing the operation "with immediate effect."

A U.S., French and British-led coalition has been hitting Libyan government forces from the air since March 19 to enforce a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing all necessary measures to protect Libyan civilians from government attacks.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.