ZAWIYA, Libya // The United Nations' special envoy for Libya said yesterday that he was meeting with representatives of both sides of the conflict, days after rebels made a dramatic advance that brought them within 30 miles of Tripoli.
A Tunisian security official said the discussions late on Monday centred on a "peaceful transition" in Libya. The official said the rebels reacted angrily to the proposal with one member of their delegation throwing a shoe during the meeting.
Abdel-Elah Al Khatib, Jordan's former foreign minister, arrived in Tunis on Monday for the meetinfurthergs with representatives of both Muammar Qaddafi and the rebels.
He said there were no direct negotiations as he met the two sides separately. He did not identify those he met or say what they discussed, speaking to reporters after a meeting yesterday with the Tunisian foreign minister Mouldi Kefi Al Khatib.
The Tunisian security official said the UN envoy might also meet a representative of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Mr Chavez's envoy has been on the Tunisian isle of Djerba for the past few days.
Back in Libya, a rebel advance over the weekend into Zawiya - just 48 kilometres from Tripoli - put the opposition force in the strongest position since it began to attack the capital. Residents were fleeing Tripoli and other cities on the coast, fearing the fighting would soon reach them.
The Obama administration said on Monday that the US was encouraged by the rebel advances and hoped they had broken a monthslong stalemate with Col Qaddafi's forces.
In a sign of the regime's growing distress, US defence officials said Libyan government forces tapped into their stores of Scud missiles this weekend, firing one for the first time in the six-month conflict. No one was hurt. The missile was fired towards a second front line in the east of the country around Brega.
The missile launch was detected by US forces shortly after midnight on Sunday and the Scud landed in the desert about 80 kilometres outside Brega, said a US official. It was launched about 80km east of Sirte, a city about 370km east of Tripoli. Sirte is Col Qaddafi's hometown and a bastion of support for him.
Noting that Scuds are not precision guided missiles, officials said they could not tell if Brega was the target.
The Nato spokesman, Col Roland Lavoie, cited the firing of a "Scud-like" short-range ballistic missile over the weekend. Although the missile landed far from any rebels, Col Lavoie said it still represented a direct threat to innocent people.
"The missiles are highly inaccurate [and] their use against an urban area is utterly irresponsible," he said.
Rebels and Col Qaddafi forces fought yesterday for control of Zawiya on a main road leading from Tunisia to Tripoli. Rebels are trying to cut off two major supply routes into the capital from Tunisia in the west and another in the south. The routes are critical with Nato imposing a no-fly zone over Libya. Rebels said on Monday they also cut oil pipelines from Zawiya to Tripoli. Libya's only functioning refineries are in Zawiya.
Medics at a field hospital on the outskirts of Zawiya said that 15 people were killed the day before in an artillery strike, including a woman and a child, and that one person was killed yesterday.
On the second front in the east, Nato planes could be heard overhead in Brega as rebels patrolled a ghost town. Furniture and clothing were strewn all over the residential compound, and many houses were broken into, their windows shattered and walls pocked with bullet holes.
Smoke was seen rising from the industrial town as fighting raged.
Rebel and regime forces have battled over Brega throughout the conflict, and control has swung back and forth.
In Tripoli, the government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim confirmed that the former interior minister Nassr Al Mabrouk Abdullah had defected from the Qaddafi regime and left for Egypt.
"He was under psychological and social pressure and he could not resist it, but the battle continues," said Mr Ibrahim.
On the diplomatic front, Moscow said it was "deeply disturbed" that Nato had "overstepped" its aerial campaign in Libya.
A Russian official said that his country as well as some other members of the UN Security Council were unhappy with the destruction of infrastructure and attacks on power supplies in government-controlled areas.
The Nato spokesman Col Lavoie denied that the alliance was overstepping its mandate.
"We take the side of the people of Libya," said Col Lavoie. "When we strike a tank, it is because we understand it does represent a threat to the local population."