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Middle East

Gadhafi Forces Beat Back Rebels In Libyan Oil Town

Libyan rebels battling forces loyal to leader Moammar Gadhafi are falling back from the oil port of Brega in their latest setback.

The momentum has remained with the pro-Gadhafi forces as fighter jets pound rebel positions.

Gadhafi's forces pushed the front line miles deeper into rebel territory Saturday to just 25 miles outside Brega, the site of a major oil terminal. Sunday's report declared the city has been "cleansed from armed gangs."

The rebels have seen a string of defeats in recent days, a major setback for opposition forces who just a week ago held the entire eastern half of the country and were charging toward the capital, Tripoli.

The rebels have called for a no-fly zone, saying they are no match for the Gadhafi regime's fighter jets. On Saturday, the Arab League asked the U.N. Security Council to impose a no-fly zone, increasing pressure on the U.S. and other Western powers to take action that most have expressed deep reservations about.

In surprisingly swift action and aggressive language, the 22-member Arab bloc said after an emergency meeting that the Libyan government had "lost its sovereignty." Delegates said the protection of the civilian population was a top priority.

It asked the United Nations to "shoulder its responsibility ... to impose a no-fly zone over the movement of Libyan military planes and to create safe zones in the places vulnerable to airstrikes."

The league also said it wants to open communications with the provisional government in Benghazi. Libyan envoys were excluded from the discussion.

In a response on Libyan State Television, Gadhafi's son Seif said: "To those Arab countries not supporting us: To hell with you, to hell with your media, and to hell with the Arab League!"

Western diplomats have said Arab and African approval was necessary before the Security Council voted on imposing a no-fly zone, which would be imposed by NATO nations to protect civilians from air attack by Gadhafi's forces.

The U.S. and many allies have expressed deep reservations about the effectiveness of a no-fly zone, and the possibility it could drag them into another messy conflict in the Muslim world.

On the streets of Benghazi, 42-year-old Abdel Majid al-Obeid says he hopes a no-fly zone can be implemented quickly:

We don't want foreign troops here ... We want a no-fly zone, because that will allow the revolutionaries to advance and take out the Gadhafi forces, he said.

Across from the courthouse where the rebels have set up their provisional government, lawyers and judges in their black robes set up a tent yesterday. Attorney Ahmed Omar says they're there to show solidarity and in hopes that someday the courthouse will be theirs again when the revolution succeeds

"Inshallah, we are going to get it back, because we're out of work now!," he says.

Omar points to the giant French flag hanging from the courthouse. He says French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who has suggested air strikes against Gadhafi's military, is "more Libyan than the Libyans," something he cannot say about President Obama.

"The flag of freedom has been always with the Americans! Where are they now, huh?" he asks.

Outside the rebel stronghold of Benghazi deep in opposition territory, Al-Jazeera cameraman Ali Hassan al-Jaber was killed in what the pan-Arab satellite station described as an ambush.

Correspondent Baybah Wald Amhadi said the crew's car came under fire from the rear as it returned from an assignment south of Benghazi. Al-Jaber was shot three times in the back and a fourth bullet hit another correspondent near the ear and wounded him, Amhadi said.

"Even areas under rebel control are not totally safe," he said. "There are followers, eyes or fifth columns, for Col. Gadhafi."

NPR's Peter Kenyon in Libya contributed to this report, which contains material from the Associated Press.