Forces loyal to Muammer Gaddafi hammered rebels with rocket barrages and airstrikes Tuesday, trying to check their advance out of the opposition-held east of Libya toward the capital Tripoli. At least 20 were wounded, some of them seriously.
On another front, government forces were reportedly battering down resistance in the closest rebel-held city to Tripoli, Zawiya. A government official claimed Gadhafi loyalists had recaptured the city, but some residents reported that rebels still held the city's main square amid a heavy barrage of residential areas. The city was sealed off and phone lines have been cut, making it impossible to verify the account.
All told, the government seems to have gained the upper hand for now in its counteroffensive against the rebels over the past few days. But the battle is far from over and could be drawn out into a long and bloody civil war.
Overwhelming air force
Gaddafi's forces have brought overwhelming force from the air to try to beat back the rebels in the east seeking to march on Tripoli and on the ground to try to retake control of Zawiya, just 30 miles west of Tripoli.
The one thing that seems to hold potential to tip the scales in the rebel's favor is international intervention. The U.S. says it has not ruled out using some type of military force against Gadhafi and with its allies, it is considering imposing a no-fly zone over the North African country to stop air attacks on the rebels.
In the east on Tuesday, government forces unleashed a heavy barrage of rockets on a rebel contingent that tried to move out from their position at the oil port of Ras Lanouf. At least 20 wounded were rushed to the hospital in the town, some of them with legs lost and other serious injuries.
"I was hit in the arm and leg, my friend was wounded in the stomach," Momen Mohammad, 31, said while lying in a hospital bed.
The fighting began when the rebel forces advanced west out of Ras Lanouf toward Bin Jawwad, a small town 375 miles (600 kilometers) east of the capital, fighters said.
Earlier in the day, warplanes launched at least five new airstrikes near rebel position in Ras Lanouf, one hitting a two-story house in a residential area, causing some damage. None of the strikes appeared to cause casualties, suggesting they were intended to intimidate the fighters, according to an Associated Press reporter who saw the strikes. The anti-regime forces were not taking any chances and were spreading out deep inside the desert around the area in small groups.
Over the past few days, rebels moved out of their stronghold in the east, capturing with relative speed the oil ports of Brega and Ras Lanouf. But they were met with superior firepower and airstrikes when they tried to push westward and beat a fast retreat to Ras Lanouf over the past two days.
The rebels seem to have reached a point of their campaign where they need to figure out how they could organize resupply lines and avoid becoming easy targets for warplanes in their march across the open desert region with little cover. The extent of their westward reach is a checkpoint about six miles (10 kilometers) west of Ras Lanouf.
Zawiya, on Tripoli's western doorstep, is the most significant position the opposition has held in the largely Gadhafi-controlled northwest of the country. After repelling several attacks the past week, the city has come under the heaviest onslaught yet since the weekend, believed to be an elite brigade commanded by one of Gadhafi's sons, Khamis.
European Union member states agreed to add the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA) to a sanctions list on Tuesday, with the restrictions expected to come into force on Friday.
Diplomats said the EU's 27 countries had agreed to impose sanctions on the $70 billion Libyan Investment Authority and four other organisations. The embargo already covers 26 Libyans including Muammar Gaddafi and his family.
"The entities include the LIA and related financial institutions," one EU diplomat said.
The LIA was set up in 2006 with initial capital of about $40 billion. It has expanded with investments in a range of European assets, from football clubs to publishing firms.
The expanded sanctions are being drafted by legal experts and are expected to be published in the EU's Official Journal -- the record of all EU legislation -- on Friday morning, when they will legally come into force, diplomats said.
The restrictions would freeze all LIA investments in all EU countries, and any other stakes that asset management firms oversee on behalf of the sovereign wealth fund.
It is estimated that LIA, the umbrella body for Libya's sovereign wealth funds, owns :2.6 percent of Italian bank UniCredit , 2.01 percent of Italian aerospace and defense company Finmeccanica SpA , 3 percent of British publisher Pearson, which owns the Financial Times , 13 percent of Jordan's Zara Investment Holding , 7.5 percent of Juventus Football Club in Italy .
LIA bought 147.9 million lira of the shares, or more than 5 percent, of Turkish real estate investment trust Emlak Konut GYO at its IPO in December.
LIA acquired a stake of about 1 percent in Russian aluminum giant UC RUSAL when the firm carried out a stock float in Hong Kong, a source close to the listing told Reuters. LIA has not confirmed the acquisition.
Mustafa Zarti, who was the deputy head of LIA, told Reuters the fund had a stake of around 2 percent in Austrian brickmaker Wienerberger and had deposits in Austrian banks.
Zarti also said LIA had deposits in HSBC and BNP Paribas .
Libya has a stake of less than 2 percent in Italian carmaker Fiat via its Libyan Arab Foreign Investment Company (LAFICO) investment vehicle, Italian media has reported.
LIA's public holdings, mainly concentrated in Europe, are largely minority stakes and asset freezes are unlikely to impact "free float", or shares available to the general public, which are required for listing.