International pressure on Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi increased yesterday as an international court began investigating whether to charge him and his inner circle with crimes against humanity and rebels strengthened their hold on the strategic oil installation at Brega.

After repelling an attempt by Gaddafi loyalists to retake the oil facilities and port at Brega, army units allied with the rebels and armed with machine guns and rocket launchers fanned out in the installation.

Government war planes launched a new airstrike on the town, according to witnesses. It was not clear what they targeted, but it was probably an airstrip that belongs to the huge oil complex on the Mediterranean coast.

But there were no reports of casualties, and pro-Gaddafi forces had withdrawn to another oil port, Ras Lanouf, 130km to the west along the Mediterranean coast after their defeat a day earlier.

In the Netherlands, the top prosecutor at the Hague-based International Criminal Court said yesterday that he would investigate Gaddafi and his inner circle, including some of his sons, for possible crimes against humanity in the violent crackdown on anti-government protesters.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo said Gaddafi and several commanders and regime officials had formal or de facto control over forces that attacked protesters. There will be “no impunity in Libya”, he vowed.

Besides Gaddafi, he specified the titles of seven others to be investigated, including the commander of the 32nd battalion, the head of Gaddafi’s personal security, the national security adviser and several other security chiefs.

Gaddafi’s son Khamis commands the elite 32nd battalion and another son, Muatassim, is the national security adviser.

The International Criminal Court is a permanent tribunal to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Developments in Brega, the second-largest petroleum and natural gas facility in Opec-member Libya, came as hundreds of mourners in the opposition stronghold of Benghazi to the east chanted “Down with Gaddafi” as they buried three of at least 14 rebel fighters killed in Thursday’s battle.

“Our message to Gaddafi is we are coming and we will make Libya free,” said one man in the crowd, Sami Hague court probes mass killings

Mosur. “He is a criminal. We are coming to him from Benghazi. We are coming from everywhere. He is a killer.”

The fighting at Brega halted for now the regime’s first counteroffensive on the opposition-held eastern half of the country. It also underlined the deadlock that Libya appears to have fallen into.

Gaddafi’s forces seem unable to bring significant strength to dislodge rebels from the territory they hold. But the opposition does not have the capability to go on the offensive against Gaddafi’s strongholds in the west, including the capital.

The major western rebel-held cities of Zawiya and Misrata have repelled repeated, major attacks.

Gaddafi’s regime has unleashed the bloodiest crackdown of any Arab nation in response to the wave of anti-government protests in the region. Hundreds are known to have been killed, and some estimates top 1000.

Opposition leaders are pleading for foreign powers to launch airstrikes to help them oust Gaddafi as the US moves military forces closer to Libyan shores to put military muscle behind Washington’s calls for Gaddafi to give up power.

The Pentagon tried to play down the idea of using military force in Libya, including a “no-fly zone” that Defence Secretary Robert Gates said would first require attacking Gaddafi’s Government.

He said it would also require more warplanes than are on a single US aircraft carrier.

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