BREGA, Libya — Ground and air forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi attacked this key oil terminal city in eastern Libya on Wednesday, but were repulsed by a motley army of volunteer fighters who flocked to this strategic coastal town as word of the assault spread.
Hospital officials here said at least six people had been killed in the fighting, and witnesses showed a video purportedly of an injured Libyan army soldier being treated at the hospital. At least 10 rebel fighters who returned to Ajdabiya were being treated for gunshot wounds at that city's hospital.
The purpose of the pro-Gadhafi forces' attack was unclear — in addition to Brega's oil terminal, the attackers also targeted the city's university — but the battle followed what's become a strange pattern: After hours of fighting, Gadhafi's better-armed and trained loyalists withdrew without taking control of their likely objective.
In the western city of Zawiya, fighters said they faced a major assault by Gadhafi's forces Monday night, only to have them back down.
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"It was like they were surveying the place. We don't understand what they are doing," Tarek Zawi, 19, a fighter, said Wednesday by telephone from Zawiya after hearing about the fighting in Brega.
The battle for Brega, however, buoyed the spirits of the disorganized rebels who flocked here after days of mounting frustration at their inability to topple Gadhafi, who remains firmly in control of the capital, Tripoli, about 500 miles west.
In a speech as the Brega battle unfolded, Gadhafi urged his followers to fight for Libya "inch by inch." He blamed al-Qaida for the unrest and said that army commanders had defected to the rebels because terrorists had forced them to do so at gunpoint. He denied that government forces had attacked peaceful protesters.
"This is the Libyan people, standing in defiance, backing their own symbolic leader," Gadhafi said, as his supporters in the room cheered as if on cue.
Meanwhile, in Cairo, the Arab League, meeting for the first time since the region exploded in a collective protest movement that in six weeks forced out the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt and threatens several others, suspended Libya's participation and condemned Gadhafi's use of force against civilian protesters. They rejected possible foreign intervention, however, calling the turmoil an internal matter for Libya.