Rebel fighters run from shrapnel during heavy shelling by forces loyal to Gaddafi near Bin Jawad yesterday. Rebels in east Libya regrouped and advanced on Bin Jawad after forces loyal to Gaddafi ambushed the rebels and drove them from the town earlier in the day. Image Credit: Reuters

United Nations: The United Nations on Sunday demanded "urgent access" to the Libyan rebel city of Misrata which has been shelled by regime forces and where a UN envoy said "injured and dying" needed immediate help.

Gaddafi's forces strike back at rebels

Forces of Libyan leader Gaddafi launched counter-offensives against rebel-held towns yesterday as the Libyan revolution escalated into open warfare.

Gaddafi's troops, backed by tanks, artillery, warplanes and helicopters attacked the towns of Zawiyah and Misrata to the immediate west and east of Tripoli, and positions near the oil port city of Ras Lanuf, 660km east of the capital.

Libyan Diary: Blog by Abbas Al Lawati

In pictures: Rebels clash with Gaddafi loyalists

Libyan rebels win battle in west, push onward

During the day, sustained artillery fire was heard on the road to the Libyan flashpoint of Bin Jawad, close to Gaddafi's hometown Sirte and site of deadly clashes between rebels and regime loyalists.

In the early hours of the day, psychological warfare was launched by Gaddafi when the Jamahiriya TV announced that it had liberated Zawiyah, Ras Lanuf and Misrata.

However, on the ground, witnesses said the three strategic cities were still held by revolutionaries.

On the diplomatic front, France became the first government to recognise the 31-member Transitional Libyan Council formed in Benghazi.

The council chaired by ex-justice minister Mustafa Abdul Jalil said it will seek international recognition and called for enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya. Only nine of the 31 members were identified. The identities of the other 22 members were kept secret for security reasons.

Ali Al Mazdawi, a Libyan journalist based in Zawiyah, said a warplane attacked a building near the municipality which was used by security forces in the city.

He said more than 30 tanks were lined up on the main road from the west of the city, but revolutionaries were still in the main Martyrs Square.

In Misrata, 14 militiamen were killed, according to the preliminary report by the revolutionary forces.

"Gaddafi's militiamen were running away from the city like mad. Some of them ran for more than two kilometres before they could catch a truck belonging to the attackers. They were expecting an easy recapture of the strategic city and fell in the trap set for them by the military leaders defending the city," he said.

In the petrochemical city of Ras Lanuf, 135 km to the west of Brega, the situation was more stable after Gaddafi's militiamen attacked the power generators in the city.