TRIPOLI, Libya, July 1 (UPI) -- NATO airstrikes and rebel counterattacks remain inconclusive, but a worsening fuel shortage may be the undoing of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, analysts say.
The prognosis of Gadhafi's administration buckling under the burden of a siege-like rebel stranglehold on the Libyan capital's energy supplies gained support from military analysts after reports Tripoli was facing severe shortages, including difficulties with securing fuel for Gadhafi's armed forces and the city itself.
A number of sources have confirmed Libyan rebels have cut the oil pipeline from the El Sharara field to the Zawiyah oil refinery, the main source of fuel for the capital, African Energy said on its Web site, africa-energy.com.
The rebels are "aiming to drain Tripoli," African Energy said, citing sources close to the opposition Interim National Council.
"It is dangerous to make predictions in such a complex situation," African Energy said, but the move to deprive Gadhafi's forces of fuel -- following what African Energy has been told was an internal debate among the rebels over the advisability of hitting energy infrastructure -- could signal the conflict is closer to its endgame than many analysts suggest.
Rebel spokesman Juma Ibrahim was quoted as claiming opposition forces had turned off a pipeline in Rayayna used to ship oil from the Awbari oil field in the south to the Zawiyah refinery.
No independent confirmation of the rebel action or its result has been available since the claim was published in late June.
Rayayna is a town northeast of Zintan. Awbari is located directly east of the El Sharara oil field, which has been sending 40,000 barrels a day to Zawiyah since the beginning of the conflict, African Energy said. The spokesman called the action an attempt by the rebel forces "to stifle the Gadhafi regime in Tripoli."
African Energy said its sources suggest the rebels may also have blocked other sources of fuel for Gadhafi's administration. These include a pipeline that can take crude to the refinery from Eni's Wafa field.
A Europe-based oil and gas trader with detailed knowledge of Libya's downstream sector told African Energy of reports that gas supplies could already be affected.
If Gadhafi's government cannot re-establish crude oil supplies or source additional fuel from Tunisia or Algeria, then it will be dependent only on existing stocks. The refinery's total storage capacity could amount to 4 million barrels equivalent, including oil products.
There is industry speculation and little concrete information on how much crude oil the 120,000-barrels-a-day refinery can actually process.