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Ferocious battles in Libya as national council meets for first time
FEROCIOUS battles between troops loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and rebel forces seesawed back and forth in both eastern and western parts of the country overnight, with hospitals reported overrun with casualties.
NewsCoreMARCH 6, 201112:32PM
An anti-Gaddafi protester prays as he holds the pre-Gadhafi Libyan flag during Friday prayers at the court square in Benghazi, eastern Libya / APSource:AP
BRITISH SAS unit was being held by rebel forces in Libya after a secret mission to put British diplomats in touch with leading opponents of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
The elite group, of up to eight men, was captured as they escorted a junior diplomat through rebel-held territory in the east of the country, according to UK newspaper The Times.

The report said their detention had been confirmed by a British source and they were being held at Benghazi.

Sky News defense correspondent Niall Paterson said: "Neither the Foreign Office nor Ministry of Defence are as yet saying anything about this matter.

"But people I have spoken to give me no reason to doubt the report."

A successful conclusion to the incident was expected to occur, Sky News reported, with Paterson saying: "The feeling in London is that the rebels who have taken the SAS members and junior diplomat are simply making a point. There is no feeling this will end badly."
It comes as battles between troops loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and rebel forces seesawed back and forth in both eastern and western parts of the country overnight, with hospitals reported overrun with casualties.

The news came as Ghadafi confirmed that three Dutch soldiers had been captured in his hometown of Sirte during a botched attempt to evacuate two civilians, a Dutch engineer and one other European, by navy helicopter last weekend
At the same time as renewed fighting erupted, the self-proclaimed national council – the opposition's newly formed government – held its first formal meeting in the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi and declared itself the sole representative of the war-torn country.
"The council declares it is the sole representative all over Libya," former justice minister Mustafa Abdel Jalil told a news conference, reading from a prepared statement.
Some of the fiercest fighting came in the western town of coastal Zawiyah, some 48 kilometres west of the capital and Gaddafi stronghold of Tripoli.
In a fresh assault, tanks manned by loyalist forces rolled into the city and began attacking everything in their paths, including private homes, UK newspaper The Times reported.
"The tanks are everywhere in the city and are opening fire on houses. I saw at least seven speed outside my house and the shelling does not stop," one resident told AFP by phone.
Sky News reported that a column of tanks was headed towards Martyrs Square in the centre of the city and the hospital was being overrun with casualties.
The Times said residents reported Ghadafi's forces were storming homes and killing occupants to get sniper positions on the roofs.
One of two armoured brigades believed to be involved was said to be the elite Kharmis Brigade, led by one of Gaddafi's sons.
But despite the attacks, rebel leaders claimed they remained in control.
There was confusion over the exact death toll, but AFP reported at least 30 people, mostly civilians, were killed during the fighting, bringing the death toll from two days of battles in the coastal town to 60.
Elsewhere, in the east of the country, rebels said they had captured the key oil port town of Ras Lanuf, where eight people were believed to have died.
Rebel flags were displayed over a major intersection in the area and there was reportedly no sign of pro-Gaddafi soldiers.
The anti-government forces there said they shot down a Libyan Air Force plane that crashed in the nearby desert, according to CNN, which also reported the headless bodies of two pilots were found at the site.
In Benghazi, Libya's second largest city, witnesses said Gaddafi forces had bombed an arms depot killing at least 32 people, according to medics.
"We're having problems at arriving at an exact number of dead as several bodies were torn apart by the explosions," Hussem al Mejri, a doctor at Benghazi's al Jala Hospital said.
In London, Sky News reported British soldiers were placed on stand-by for deployment to Libya in case the crisis there worsens.
The Ministry of Defence said that the third Black Watch battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland was ready to depart "on 24 hours notice."
The government said that troops were ready to participate "in humanitarian and evacuation operations," but not "in combat missions."
The most recent bloodshed signaled an escalation in efforts by both sides to break the deadlock that has gripped Libya's during 18 days of upheaval.
Gaddafi's troops had little success in taking back territory, with several rebel cities repelling assaults and the entire eastern half of the country under rebel control.
Oil prices soared again on the unrest. New York's light sweet crude for April delivery briefly topped $104 a barrel, the highest level for two and a half years.
The price could double if the situation in the Arab world deteriorates, British international development minister Alan Duncan warned.
Originally published asBloodshed as ferocious battles rock Libya
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