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Pro-Gadhafi Forces Drive Back Libyan Rebels

A rebel fighter scrubs his missiles at a front line checkpoint on the road between Bin Jawad and Nawfiliyah, Libya, March 29, 2011

Forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi are in heated battles with rebels trying to advance west toward Gadhafi's hometown and stronghold of Sirte.

Foreign journalists said an onslaught Tuesday by the pro-Gadhafi fighters forced the rebels to retreat farther east. They reported rocket and machinegun fire near the town of Bin Jawad where rebels are scrambling.

The battles came after pro-government forces drove the rebels back with heavy tank and artillery hits late Monday.

International airstrikes against pro-Gadhafi troops have enabled the anti-government forces to recapture large amounts of territory in recent days.

The battle for Sirte is expected to be critical in the rebels' push to end Gadhafi's 42-year rule.

Sirte is dominated by members of the Libyan leader's Gadhadhfa tribe. But many in another large local tribe, the Firjan, are believed to resent his rule, and rebels are hoping to encourage them and other tribes there to help them.

Western nations began enforcing a United Nations-authorized no-fly zone over Libya on March 19. Allied warplanes targeted Sirte for the first time late Sunday.