Cairo: Tanks of Muammar Gaddafi's forces broke into the embattled western Libyan city of Zawiyah on Wednesday, while his fighters pounded the oil port of Ras Lanuf in the east as the US and its western allies appeared to be firming up plans to impose a no-fly zone over the country.
The tanks rolled into Zawiyah after days of pitched battle between the
loyalists and rebels, which according to residents have reduced large parts of the town to rubbles with unclaimed bodies strewn all over, Al-Jazeera reported.
US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron discussed a possible no-fly zone over Libya but both countries maintained that any intervention must have wide international support. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, however, made it clear that "any decision to impose a no-fly zone over Libya should be made by the UN and not by US."
As the possibility of international intervention grew, the Libyan strongman Gaddafi hit back warning that his people would take up arms if such a zone is imposed by the western nations or the UN.
Unfazed by an ultimatum served on him by the rebels to step down within 72 hours, Gaddafi, in his interview to Turkish TV, said a no-fly zone would show the true intention of the Americans and their European allies to "colonise Libya and seize its oil wealth".
68-year-old Gaddafi also appealed to the people in the east, who have shunned him, to rise and topple the members of the newly-formed rebel Libyan National Council. Al-Jazeera reported that Gaddafi had not deployed a major portion of his elite army regiments and was holding them to confront a feared western invasion.
Gaddafi was shown walking into a five-star hotel in the capital Tripoli to give interview to state TV and the Turkish TV. His comments came amid reports that rebels had served him an ultimatum to step down within 72 hours.
"If he leaves Libya immediately, during 72 hours, and stops the bombardment, we as Libyans will step back from pursuing him for crimes," Mustafa Abdel Jalil, head of the Opposition National Council, told Al-Jazeera.
"Conditions are that firstly he stops all combat in the fields, secondly that his departure is within 72 hours; thirdly we may waive our right of domestic prosecution for the crimes of oppression, persecution, starvation and massacres," Jalil said.
The offer came as reports said Gaddafi had sent feelers to the opposition movement, expressing willingness to negotiate his exit.
Unconfirmed reports indicated that Gaddafi, who has been in power for 41 years, was willing to step down in return for having war crimes charges against him dropped and a guaranteed safe exit for him and his family.
The reports also said the Libyan dictator was looking for a place to live in exile. However state television rubbished these reports. An official from the Libyan Foreign Ministry described the reports as "absolute nonsense".
In the east, after capturing the small city of Bin Jawad, Gaddafi's forces had encircled Ras Lanuf as for the third day on Wednesday his fighters pounded the city from where an exodus was reported.
In London, in an interview to Sky News, Clinton, while saying that a decision to impose a no-fly zone should be made by the UN, renewed her government's call for Gaddafi to step down peacefully.
According to UN estimates, over 1,000 people have been killed since Libya's uprising began on February 14.
More than 200,000 people have fled the country, most of them are foreign workers. The exodus is creating a humanitarian crisis across the border with Tunisia.