Moammar Gadhafi’s forces overwhelmed rebels in the strategic eastern city of Ajdabiya, hammering them with airstrikes, missiles, tanks and artillery Tuesday in an assault that sent residents fleeing and appeared to open the way for an all-out government offensive on the opposition’s main stronghold in the east, Benghazi.
In desperation, rebels sent up two antiquated warplanes that struck a government ship bombarding Ajdabiya from the Mediterranean. But as tanks rolled into the city from two directions and rockets relentlessly pounded houses and shops, the ragtag opposition fighters’ defenses appeared to break down.
Only 10 days ago, the rebellion was poised to march on Tripoli, the capital, and had appeared capable of sweeping Gadhafi out after 41 years in power, but the regime’s better armed and organized military has reversed the tide. Efforts led by France and Britain to create a no-fly zone to protect the rebels have gone nowhere, and some rebels lashed out at the West for failing to come to their aid. Agencies