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Rebels flee rumoured advance in Ajdabiya by Libyan loyalists

media Families flee Ajdabiya towards Benghazi Reuters/Andrew Winning

Libyan rebels and civilians are reported to be fleeing the eastern town of Ajdabiya on Thursday following rumours that forces loyal to leader Moamer Kadhafi were at the gates of the town. Families packed into trucks have joined military vehicles in a charge towards the rebel stronghold Benghazi some 160 kilometres away.

The flight began soon after the rebels were hit by an air strike near the key oil town of Brega which they say was carried out by Nato forces. Two fighters and a paramedic were killed in the strike and 10 more fighters were wounded.

In Brussels, Nato says it is trying to confirm the reports.

The rebels seized Ajdabiya on 26 March, a week afer coalition forces beat back Kadhafi loyalists from the gates of Benghazi. After coming within 60 kilometres of the Libyan leaders's hometown of Sirte on 28 March, the rebels have been steadily pushed back almost 400 kilometres by Kadhafi's forces.

Despite Kadhafi's advances, French Foreign minister Alain Juppé, said on Thursday that is now only a question of how his regime meets its downfall rather than whether the veteran ruler can survive in power.

Meanwhile, the US has rebuffed a letter from Kadhafi to President Barack Obama asking for an end to air strikes on his country. Instead the US reiterated calls for Kadhafi to stand down.

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