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Qaddafi bombs Brega as rebels hold on

Libyan government accepts Venezuelan plan that seeks a negotiated solution to the uprising, as chairman of rebel National Libyan Council entirely rejected the concept of talks with Qaddafi.

Opposition supporters carry coffins during a funeral for slain rebel fighters in Ajdabiya, Libya.
Opposition supporters carry coffins during a funeral for slain rebel fighters in Ajdabiya, Libya.

A fresh air strike hit the rebel-held Libyan town of Brega today, residents said, amid fears of a new bid by troops loyal to Muammar Qaddafi's regime to recapture the key oil port.

The raid on the eastern town came the day after a battle with pro-regime fighters that killed at least 12 people, as unconfirmed reports said government forces were being boosted by "Chadian mercenaries".

Abdulrahman, one of 10 fighters guarding the entrance to Brega's refinery complex, who did not want to give his last name, said he saw the attack.

"I was here with my people, tightening security around the refinery, then we heard the sound of planes. It was one plane that flew over three times. I think it was a Sukhoi. The third time, it dropped bombs," he told AFP.

An AFP reporter saw two craters punched out of empty land close to the refinery compound.

Abdelfattah al Moghrabi, director of supplies for Brega hospital, said there had been no casualties.

Government forces with heavy weaponry attacked Brega at dawn on Wednesday in their biggest counter-offensive yet since the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi's 41-year rule erupted on February 15 in eastern Libya.

Despite air strikes throughout the day, the rebels managed to push the attackers out of the town, sparking celebrations, which were themselves targeted by Colonel Qaddafi's fighter jets.

Mr al Moghrabi said nine rebels and three pro-Qaddafii fighters, including one who had identity papers from Niger and two other Africans without documents, were killed.

Hundreds of people attended the funerals of six of the rebels in the main opposition-held city of Benghazi Thursday and another five in the town of Ajdabiya, 150 kilometres (94 miles) to the west.

"Qaddafi get out, Libyans don't want you" and "Qaddafi you're crazy" they shouted.

In Benghazi a spokesman at the courthouse, the rebels' nerve centre, who did not want to be named, said, "We have taken a lot of prisoners, as many as 100."

Mr al Moghrabi told AFP those captured included three Libyans and two unidentified "Africans," adding that they had been taken to Benghazi for questioning.

Several sources said meanwhile that forces loyal to Colonel Qaddafi captured at least five people in Brega during their counter-offensive.

The Benghazi spokesman added, "Today it seems like Qaddafi is reinforcing his forces with mercenaries. Witnesses have seen troops (and Chadian mercenaries) moving towards Raslanuf. We are waiting to see if they attack or make a reinforcing line before Sirte."

Raslanuf lies some 100 kilometres (65 miles) west of Brega, while Sirte is further west still towards Tripoli, the capital and Colonel Qaddafi's power base.

The spokesman said the mercenaries came from Chad, which borders Libya to the south. "We don't know how many, but an incredible number," he said.

Asked if a force was being prepared to march on Tripoli, the rebels' Khalid al Sahay said: "Of course, in the near future. We have a lot of our young men being trained. Huge numbers."

"They have a lot of resolve to change this particular regime and eventually we'll march on Tripoli. We have the will and his people don't," said Sahay, who liaises between the rebel forces and national council.

Mr al Sahay said it was too early to expect the international community to respond to a rebel request on Wednesday for air strikes against mercenaries.

Mohammed Khanis, a worker at the oil compound, said that if the refinery was captured, power in Benghazi could be cut off.

The Libyan government has accepted a Venezuelan plan that seeks a negotiated solution to the uprising, a spokesman for the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, said today.

The Venezuelan information minister. Andres Izarra. also confirmed the Arab League had shown interest in Mr Chavez's proposal to send an international commission to talk with both sides in Libya.

"Libya accepts the proposal to work for a negotiated end to the conflict accompanied by an international commission," Mr Izarra told Reuters. "Venezuela will continue its contacts in the Arab world and elsewhere to find formulas for peace in Libya."

Mr Chavez, a former soldier who casts himself as an anti-imperial revolutionary, is a close friend of Colonel Qaddafi and says he believes reports of repression by the Libyan leader are exaggerated.

Reports that Mr Chavez's proposal was being taken seriously by Arab leaders pushed down oil prices after a days-long rally on worries the escalating violence in Libya will hit supplies.

Earlier, the chairman of the rebel National Libyan Council entirely rejected the concept of talks with Colonel Qaddafi. The president of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, told Reuters no decision had yet been taken on the Venezuela plan but that it was under consideration.