Libya's rebel forces advanced once again to the strategic oil town of Brega thanks to four days of airstrikes by NATO, said a rebel officer on Saturday.

Following scattered clashes with government forces, the rebels reached the outskirts of Brega, which has already changed hands half a dozen times since fighting began in early March, said Colonel Hamid Hassy. Explosions that appeared to be from new airstrikes could still be heard on Saturday.

For four days, rebel forces have maintained their positions around Ajdabiya, about 50 km to the east, allowing airstrikes to weaken government forces, said Colonel Hassy. On Friday, however, the fighters pushed in to reach Brega's university campus, just outside the town's oil port. He said if rebels retook Brega, they would bring engineers to repair any damage to the refinery and oil facilities there. Government troops, meanwhile, continued their powerful assault with tanks and rockets on Misrata, the last major rebel city in western Libya. The city has become emblematic of the limits of NATO's air campaign, with the alliance's top military commander saying he needs more precision attack aircraft to avoid civilian casualties in urban combat.

Rebels in Misrata and the New York-based group Human Rights Watch have alleged that Muammar Qadhafi's forces have been using cluster bombs, which pose particular risk to civilians because they scatter small bomblets over a wide area. Most of the world's nations have banned the use of the munitions.

Human Rights Watch said its researchers inspected remnants of the weapons found in a Misrata neighbourhood and interviewed witnesses.

Keywords: Libyan uprising

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