Libyan rebels, who have engaged in a vigorous week of fighting along the country’s Mediterranean coast took full control of strategic towns of Zawiya and Zliten on Saturday, to oust leader Moammar Gadhafi.
Capturing the entire city of Zawiya allows the rebels close to the Gadhafi’s stronghold just 50 kilometres to the east.
On Friday they claimed “Zawiya is free” as they took up positions in its hospital hours after pounding the center of the oil-refinery town, the last major barrier as they try to advance on Tripoli from the west.
The key refinery is the only source of fuel to the capital, and could leave it without critical supplies.
Zliten were seized from Gadhafi’s forces, hours after saying they were in the town’s centre, 150 kilometres (93 miles) east of Tripoli.
An army patrol came under fire from armed men traveling aboard several 4X4 vehicles with Libyan registration plates in the Douz region, an official said on Saturday.
No one was caught and the attackers were still being hunted Saturday by ground and air forces, the official said, adding there were no casualties on the Tunisian side.
The rebels have vowed to take Tripoli before the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan ends in late August. Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini also urged the population of the capital to rise up against Gadhafi.
The territory remaining under Gadhafi’s control has been shrinking dramatically in the past three weeks, with opposition fighters moving closer to Tripoli from the west, south and east.
Meanwhile, the International Organization for Migration said it was drawing up plans to evacuate thousands of migrants stranded in Tripoli because exit points have been cut off after a spate of rebel successes.
The International Committee of the Red Cross reported a “rapid deterioration in the humanitarian situation” in several Libyan towns.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO, in its operational update for Friday, said it had hit targets in the vicinity of Tripoli, Zawiya and Zliten, including nine military facilities around the capital.
Reports from Brasilia also said that clashes broke out late Friday at the Libyan embassy in the Brazilian capital between supporters of Gadhafi and his opponents.