RAS LANOUF, Libya -- A giant yellow fireball shot into the sky, trailed by thick plumes of black smoke Wednesday after fighting between rebels and forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi set two oil installations ablaze and inflicted yet more damage on Libya's crippled energy industry.
In the west, Gadhafi claimed victory in recapturing Zawiya, the city closest to the capital that had fallen into opposition hands. The claim could not immediately be verified; phone lines there have not been working during a deadly, six-day siege.
State TV showed a crowd of hundreds, purportedly in Zawiya's main square, shouting "The people want Colonel Gadhafi!"
The fall of Zawiya to anti-Gadhafi residents early on in the uprising that began Feb. 15 illustrated the initial, blazing progress of the opposition. But Gadhafi has seized the momentum, battering the rebels with airstrikes and artillery fire and repulsing their westward march toward the capital, Tripoli.
Gadhafi's successes have left Western powers struggling to come up with a plan to support the rebels without becoming ensnared in the complex and fast-moving conflict. On Wednesday, a high-ranking member of the Libyan military flew to Cairo with a message for Egyptian army officials from Gadhafi, but no further details were known.
President Barack Obama's most senior advisers met Wednesday to outline possible steps to pressure Gadhafi to halt the violence and give up power. They planned to examine the ramifications of a no-fly zone over Libya and other potential military options, U.S. officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal administration deliberations.
A rebel spokesman said Wednesday they will buy weapons if the international community fails to declare a no-fly zone.
"If a no-fly zone is not imposed, we do have the means to get armaments. We don't expect any country to refuse to deal with us in terms of an arms sale," said Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga, a spokesman for the rebels' provisional transitional national council.
He did not elaborate or say where the rebels would get the money for arms.
Britain and France are pushing for the U.N. to create a no-fly zone over the country, and while the U.S. may be persuaded to sign on, such a move is unlikely to win the backing of veto-wielding Security Council members Russia and China, which traditionally object to such steps as infringements on national sovereignty.