Battle As Libyan Rebels Recapture Key Town

Libyan rebels say they have recaptured the key town of Zawiyah just 18 miles (30km) from the capital Tripoli.

Anti-Gaddafi forces have raised their flag in the centre of the town.

It means the coastal highway to Tunisia is cut off for the Gaddafi regime, leaving a key supply route into Tripoli out of use.

Rebels now control the coast to the east and west of the Libyan capital.

I was with two colleagues from other media organisations, travelling along the main coast road towards Tripoli along with two Libyan government minders, when our minibus became caught up in the firefight.

We were making the regular journey from the Tunisian border to Tripoli to be based at the government supervised Rixos Hotel in the city. Earlier in the day several members of the media travelled in the opposite direction without incident.

But at around 5pm (Saturday), the minibus was waved to a halt by soldiers on the outskirts of Zawiyah and was forced to take a detour through the northern suburbs.

However, as it did so, gunfire could be heard and government soldiers were seen retreating down side streets, waving the minibus away.

The driver tried to negotiate a route through, but each time was forced to turn around.

Zawiyah was the scene of fierce fighting five months ago, witnessed by Sky's Alex Crawford.

She and her colleagues filmed 2 days of artillery assault by government tanks, attacking rebels who were trying to defend the town.

It was eventually recaptured, but many civilians were killed. It has been held by the regime ever since, but it's strategic location on the coast makes it a prized target for the National Transitional Council because it would cut the regime's supply lines to the west of Tripoli.

During the gun battle we spent 20 minutes driving around in circles looking for a way through to Tripoli, but it was obvious it was too dangerous to continue. The minibus headed back towards the Tunisian border.

All along the road there was evidence of the fuel shortages which are affecting ordinary Libyans, even in areas controlled by those loyal to Colonel Gaddafi.

Many petrol stations were closed and their entrances blocked, while those that were open had long queues as dozens of motorists tried to fill their cars.

Rebel advances, together with NATO airstrikes are continuing to threaten the Libyan leaders 41 year rule.