Libyan rebels battled to hold a strategic eastern city against a punishing offensive by forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi on Wednesday, voicing anger and frustration at the West for not coming to their aid. At the same time, government troops heavily shelled the last main rebel bastion near the capital.
Charred vehicles, bullet-riddled pickup trucks and an overturned tank littered the desert highway where pro-Gadhafi forces had fought up to the entrance of the key eastern city of Ajdabiya. An Associated Press Television News cameraman counted at least three bodies by the side of the road, evidence of fierce battles. Government troops were bringing in a stream of truckloads of ammunition, rockets and supplies -- signs of an intensified effort by the Libyan leader to retake control of the country he has ruled with an iron fist for more than four decades.
The rebels lashed out at the West as the latest international effort to impose a no-fly zone over Libya stumbled along. Supporters in the U.N. Security Council were trying to push through a resolution to impose such a move along with other measures aimed at preventing Gadhafi from bombing his people, but Russia and Germany have expressed doubts.
"People are fed up. They are waiting impatiently for an international move," said Saadoun al-Misrati, a rebel spokesman in the city of Misrata, the last rebel-held city in western Libya, which came under heavy shelling Wednesday.
"What Gadhafi is doing, he is exploiting delays by international community. People are very angry that no action is being taken against Gadhafi's weaponry."
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged all sides to accept an immediate cease-fire. He warned Gadhafi's forces against a march on Benghazi, the opposition's de facto capital in the east, saying that "a campaign to bombard such an urban center would massively place civilian lives at risk."
Ajdabiya, a city of 140,000, is the gateway to the rebel-held eastern half of Libya and if Gadhafi troops take it, Benghazi would likely be their next target.
Libya's deputy U.N. ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi, who is supporting the opposition, told reporters in New York on Wednesday he expects a no-fly resolution to be adopted, hopefully "within the next 10 hours" and with a provision that will also allow air strikes.
Hundreds of pro-Gadhafi troops were lined up with dozens of tanks and other heavy equipment at the arches over the highway marking Ajdabiya's western gates. The AP and other journalists brought to the scene by government escorts saw regime forces bringing in large truckloads of ammunition and equipment -- a sign that the troops were gearing up to try to sweep through Ajdabiya and likely beyond.
As journalists arrived, the troops at the gates fired automatic weapons and anti-aircraft guns in the air, waving green flags and chanting, "God, Moammar, Libya: That is enough." Grafitti on nearby buildings that read "Moammar the dog" had been painted over with new graffiti of "long live Moammar."