Tripoli: Military forces loyal to Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi have fired a Scud missile for the first time in the country’s six-month conflict, US defence officials say. They say it was launched from near the coastal city of Sirte and aimed at Brega – currently held by rebels – but landed harmlessly in the desert.Pro-Gaddafi forces are believed to have more than 200 Scuds in their arsenal.
The move comes as the rebels continue a push towards the capital, Tripoli.
On Monday they advanced into two strategically important towns controlling access to the capital, from the west and the south.
Fighting was reported in both Zawiya, 50km (30 miles) west of Tripoli, and Gharyan, 80km (50 miles) to the south.
Medics outside Zawiya told media that sniper and mortar fire from government troops had left three civilians dead.
Col Gaddafi’s forces are still thought to control the Zawiya oil refinery – the only one in western Libya – where they get most of their fuel.
Earlier, the rebels said they had seized Gharyan – a town in the Nafusa Mountains that straddles the road connecting Tripoli with Sabha, Sorman – west along the road from Zawiya to Tunisia – and Tiji, although this has not been confirmed by residents.
If the towns fell to the rebels, they would have Tripoli surrounded by land, with Nato blocking sea access.
But both rebels and US said Col Gaddafi was coming under increasing pressure.
Rebel spokesman Ahmed Bani said the use of a Scud was a sign of desperation by the Libyan leader. “This man will use any weapon necessary to keep his regime going and resume his rule, even for few hours,” he said.
“It’s becoming increasingly clear that Gaddafi’s days are numbered,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
However, in an audio message broadcast on Libyan state TV on Monday Col Gaddafi was defiant. “The end of the coloniser is close and the end of the rats is close,” he said.