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Libyan rebels battle for key road

BY HADEEL AL-SHALCHI

AND PAUL SCHEMM

The Associated Press

TRIPOLI, Libya -- Rebels fought yesterday for control of a major supply road to the capital, seizing a border crossing with Tunisia and strengthening their hold on the oil-rich country as they hunt for Moammar Gadhafi.

Controlling the road from the Tunisian border to Tripoli would help ease growing shortages of fuel and food, particularly in the battle-scarred capital.

Mahmoud Shammam, information minister in the rebels' transitional council, said the rebels already control most of the road, but that regime fighters are shelling it in the area of the city of Zwara, midway between Tripoli and the border.

Rebels had captured the crossing known as Ras Ajdir, the gateway to the road to Tripoli.

In Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte, one of the regime's remaining bastions, rebels are trying to negotiate a surrender with loyalists who still control the town, Shammam said. British warplanes struck a large bunker Friday in Sirte, as NATO turned its attention to loyalist forces trying to hold back rebels in the area.

However, Fadl-Allah Haron, a rebel commander from the eastern city of Benghazi, said the talks had failed and opposition forces were positioned to the east of Sirte in Bin Jawwad, waiting for NATO to carry out more airstrikes to destroy Scud missile launching sites and suspected arms depots.

"Gadhafi forces have refused to surrender," he said. "What we fear most is chemical weapons and the long-range missiles."

Shammam insisted the hunt for Gadhafi was continuing, but would not delay efforts to set up a new administration.

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