TRIPOLI, Libya, March 10 (UPI) -- Forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi bombed the town of Ras Lanuf and brought rebel fighters to a halt as they attempted to move west, reports said.
"Gadhafi is attacking us with planes, tanks, rockets and heavy weapons, we are unarmed civilians and there many families and kids were hit," one Ras Lanuf resident told the BBC Thursday.
The rebels had been advancing towards Sirte, Gadhafi's birthplace, from Ras Lanuf, an oil port, al-Jazeera reported. But Gadhafi troops brought them to a standstill Wednesday, the Arabic broadcaster said.
The untrained anti-Gadhafi fighters had been able to gather a surprising amount of firepower, including Grad rocket launchers, al-Jazeera said.
As fighting continued, NATO defense ministers gathered in Brussels to begin two days of meetings headlined by the fighting in Libya. Ministers will consider how the alliance can respond to the disintegrating situation in Libya in case a call for assistance is made, NATO said in a release. One option under consideration is whether to impose a no-fly zone.
The International Red Cross said Libya has descended into civil war, as violence has been reported in several areas between government forces and rebels seeking the ouster of leader Moammar Gadhafi, The Guardian reported.
ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger said in Misrata 40 patients were treated for serious injuries and 22 people were dead. A Red Cross surgical team in Ajdabiya operated on 55 wounded so far this week, he said, adding, "civilians are bearing the brunt of the violence."
"We have now a non-international armed conflict, or what you would call civil war," Kellenberger said. "We see increasing numbers of wounded arriving at hospitals in the east and we are extremely worried."
Britain has urged the European Union to issue a declaration calling for Gadhafi to step down, The Guardian said. In a joint letter with Germany, Foreign Secretary William Hague said the organization should agree on a declaration "the EU and its member states will not work or co-operate with Gadhafi and that he has to step aside to allow for a true democratic transformation of the country."
Gadhafi, meanwhile, was conducting his own diplomatic effort, contacting several countries ahead of the EU and NATO meetings, The Guardian reported.
Leaders from France, Greece, Portugal and Egypt planned to meet with Libyan envoys ahead of the emergency European Union summit scheduled in Brussels Friday, Radio France Internationale reported. France had announced it would recognize the rebel Libyan National Council as the only legitimate representative of the Libyan people.