BENGHAZI, Libya — Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi’s forces struck back on three fronts on Monday, using fighter jets, special forces units and regular army troops in an escalation of hostilities that brought Libya closer to civil war.
The attacks by the colonel’s troops on an oil refinery in central Libya and on cities on either side of the country unsettled rebel leaders — who earlier had claimed they were close to liberating the country — and showed that despite defections by the military, the government still possessed powerful assets, including fighter pilots willing to bomb Libyan cities.
But the ease with which at least one assault, on the western city of Zawiyah, was repelled by anti-government forces raised questions about the ability of the government to muster a serious challenge to the rebels’ growing power.
An international campaign to force Colonel Qaddafi from power gathered pace on Monday as the Obama administration announced it had seized $30 billion in Libyan assets and the European Union adopted an arms embargo and other sanctions. As the Pentagon began repositioning Navy warships to support a possible humanitarian or military intervention, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton bluntly told the Libyan leader to surrender power “now, without further violence or delay.”
In some of the harshest language yet from an American official, the United Nations envoy, Susan Rice, accused the Libyan leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, of “slaughtering his own people” and being “disconnected from reality.”
Pro-government troops challenged rebel forces in Misurata and Zawiyah, two important breakaway cities near Tripoli, the nation’s capital and principal Qaddafi stronghold.
In Zawiyah, a city with important oil resources just 30 miles from the capital, residents said they rebuffed a series of attacks Monday, suffering no casualties but killing a total of about 10 soldiers and capturing about a dozen others. A government spokesman confirmed the death toll.
“It is perfect news,” said A.K. Nasrat, 51, an engineer who is among the rebels, before adding: “There is no way they are going to take this city out of our hands unless we all die first.”
The first attack took place shortly after midnight, when some pro-Qaddafi soldiers in pickup trucks tried to pass through the city’s eastern gate, Mr. Nasrat said. But they were spotted by rebel sentries who defeated them with help from defected army and police personnel defending the town. Four soldiers were killed and several captured, with some of the captives readily surrendering their arms and switching sides, he said