Libyan rebels have broken the government siege of two western mountain towns, a rebel commander said, while Nato pounded 10 targets across the country.
The heavy bombing and rebel victory, plus the first publicised diplomatic contact between China and the rebel leadership, reflect the continued erosion of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's power since the eruption in mid-February of uprisings to end his 42-year rule.
A rebel military leader said his troops had broken the siege of two towns in the western Nafusa mountain range, Yefren and Shakshuk. The latter holds an important power station that feeds a number of local towns.
Ending the siege is likely to bring relief to local residents. Gaddafi's troops had cut their supply lines and subjected them to random shelling since April, local Colonel Jumaa Ibrahim of the region's rebel military council said.
Col Ibrahim said rebel forces freed the towns on Thursday then moved north to clash with Gaddafi forces in the village of Bir Ayyad. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
"Our aim is the capital," he said, though it remains unlikely that the area's fighters will pose a serious threat to Gaddafi's hold on Tripoli, 45 miles north-west.
The victories could help the small bands of rebels in the Nafusa mountains co-ordinate by opening a key road between their hilltop towns and villages. Still, their numbers remain small compared to those in the large rebel-held territories in east Libya.
Meanwhile , at least 10 Nato airstrikes hit the capital and elsewhere in Libya. It was not immediately clear if there were any casualties.
Four early-morning blasts shook central Tripoli, targeting a barracks near the sprawling compound where Gaddafi sometimes lives, said a government official. Six earlier strikes targeted a police station and a military base outside the capital, the official said.
Meanwhile, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said that China's ambassador to Qatar recently met with the head of Libya's rebel council, the first known meeting between the two sides. China abstained in the UN Security Council vote authorising Nato military action in Libya.