, Libya, Apr 4 – The United States agreed to extend air strikes in Libya into Monday as the oil town of Brega saw heavy fighting, with rebel forces advancing only to fall back after an ambush by forces loyal to Moamer Gadhafi.
The US air strikes, part of a coalition effort to protect civilians from Gadhafi\’s forces, would continue through Monday at NATO\’s request, because of "recent poor weather in Libya," the Pentagon said on Sunday.
The US military had planned to begin withdrawing its combat jets and Tomahawk missiles from the air campaign against Libya\’s regime this weekend, as NATO allies were to take the lead in bombing Kadhafi\’s forces.
Meanwhile, Kadhafi was hit by another defection.
Former foreign minister and UN General Assembly president Ali Treiki became the latest official to abandon Gadhafi, after the flight to Britain of foreign minister and regime stalwart Mussa Kussa days earlier.
A British delegation was also reported to be in the Libyan rebel bastion of Benghazi in the east, nearly a month after a botched bid by special forces to contact the insurgency caused red faces in London when the team was captured.
Rebel spokesman Mustafa Gheriani confirmed the presence of a British group in the country\’s second largest city for talks with the Transitional National Council (TNC) on Sunday.
A British Foreign Office spokesperson also confirmed the trip, saying the team was led by Christopher Prentice, who also visited Libya last week.
The spokesperson said the aim of the trip was to "engage with key figures" on the TNC, "build on the work of the previous team and seek to establish further information" about the council and its aims.
On March 7, London called the seizure by rebels of a team — reportedly six elite Special Air Service troopers and two diplomats — in a botched attempt to contact the insurgency the result of a "serious misunderstanding."
Gadhafi\’s foreign affairs secretary of state, Abdelati Obeidi, was in Athens to meet Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou Sunday "at the request of the Libyan prime minister," Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmudi, Papandreou\’s office said.
On the front line, rebels who had entered the eastern town of Brega early on Sunday said they were staging a tactical withdrawal after being ambushed.
An AFP correspondent saw some 300 to 400 fighters regrouping on the road back into rebel-held territory some 10 kilometres (six miles) to the east.
Loud explosions could still be heard from Brega\’s outskirts as the rebels\’ best-trained fighters took on the Kadhafi loyalists.
Most of the rebel volunteers acknowledged they lacked the military training, discipline and knowledge of the terrain to mount a frontal assault on Brega.
They said they were dependent on the rebels\’ few trained fighters, mostly defectors from the regular army.
"There is no commander. We are all together," said Abdul Wahed Aguri, a 28-year-old.
"We are not army. We can\’t move closer to Brega because we don\’t know where the enemy is. We don\’t know the area. We have to wait for the army (defectors)," he said, adding that could take a whole day.
Intermittent explosions rumbled across the desert landscape as the rebel vanguard traded rocket and artillery fire with Kadhafi forces inside the town.
Aircraft from the NATO-led coalition enforcing a no-fly zone were heard overhead. The rebels said they heard air strikes on loyalist positions in the town overnight, although there was no immediate confirmation from the alliance.
Earlier on Sunday, the rebels pushed forward to seize the vast university campus on Brega\’s outskirts, an AFP correspondentwitnessed before the retreat.
The town has been the scene of intense exchanges for several days, with both sides advancing only to withdraw again later under fire.
Treiki, the latest in a string of officials to abandon the Kadhafi regime, met Arab League chief Amr Mussa for talks in Cairo on Sunday.
Treiki resigned his official duties as an adviser to Kadhafi but did not pledge allegiance to the rebels, Arab League sources said.
He was Tripoli\’s envoy to the United Nations until 2009 when he became president of the UN General Assembly.
Retired US general James Jones, who until last October was President Barack Obama\’s national security adviser, said the Libya endgame was more "vital" to Europe than to the United States.
He also acknowledged on Sunday talk shows that Kadhafi\’s ouster was the ultimate goal in the coalition air campaign.
In other developments on the region, the New York Times reported Washington appears to be backing away from support from Yemen\’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh in the belief he is unlikely to carry out needed reforms.
The United States said separately Sunday said it authorized family members of US government employees to leave Syria as it heightened a travel warning for the country being roiled by political unrest.