A battle between Libyan troops and rebels spilled over the western border into Tunisia Friday, drawing a sharp rebuke of Moammar Gadhafi's regime from the neighboring government.
Clashes along the Tunisian border have escalated since Thursday, posing a new challenge for Gadhafi within the western half of the country where he must consolidate his control to cling to power. Rebels captured most of the east early on in the uprising against Gadhafi that began in February.
On the other major front in western Libya, NATO foiled attempts by regime loyalists to close the only access route to the besieged rebel city of Misrata, intercepting boats that were laying anti-ship mines in the waters around the port. The port is the only lifeline for the city of 300,000, which has been under siege for two months.
Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said he was unaware of the attempted mine-laying, but said the government is trying to prevent weapons shipments from reaching the rebels by sea. He said aid shipments must be coordinated with the authorities and should preferably come overland.
The government offensive on the Tunisian border along with shelling that killed 15 in Misrata on Friday and the attempt to mine the Misrata port show the regime is redoubling efforts to crush stubborn pockets of resistance in the west.
In the capital Tripoli, residents reported rising tensions over fuel shortages, a result of international sanctions imposed on Gadhafi. Witnesses said there have been clashes between residents and troops, including with stones and tear gas, at gas stations in recent days, after security forces tried to cut into huge lines.
In another indication of shortages, the government sent text messages to mobile phones of armed supporters, urging them to stop firing in the air in order to save ammunition for "our crusader enemies," said two city residents who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
Gadhafi has clamped down hard on dissent in the capital. Shooting is heard frequently in Tripoli, some of the volleys fired in the air in pro-Gadhafi rallies. However, opposition figures say there have also been sneak nighttime shooting attacks on army checkpoints in the city.
The actions of the Libyan leader, increasingly isolated since the start of the crisis, drew new condemnations Friday. The Tunisian Foreign Ministry summoned Libya's ambassador to convey its "most vigorous protests" for the "serious violations" at the Dhuheiba border area Thursday and Friday, a ministry statement said.