TODAY   |  March 09, 2011

Rebels under siege plead for no-fly zone

Despite international isolation, leader Moammar Gadhafi appears to have a renewed confidence as his troops advance on areas held by rebels, who are now pleading with the West for protection. NBC’s Richard Engel reports from Tripoli.

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ANN CURRY, anchor: And we turn now to northern Africa where forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi are closing in on the rebel stronghold of Zawiyah this morning. We've got NBC 's chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel joining us now from Tripoli . Hey, Richard , good morning.

RICHARD ENGEL reporting: Good morning, Ann. Gadhafi says that his forces and all Libyans would fight against and Western-imposed no-fly zone. The rebels, however, say they desperately need a no-fly zone for protection as Gadhafi 's troops continue to attack rebel strongholds. Tanks are closing in on the town of Zawiyah outside Tripoli . Rebels inside have been cut off, isolated and, according to witnesses, relentlessly attacked for more than a week. Witnesses say Gadhafi 's forces are, quote, "leveling Zawiyah and have killed dozens." In the east, Gadhafi 's forces are also driving back motivated but undisciplined rebels and warn that the advance will intensify.

Unidentified Man: Today we kill you in Ras Lanuf , tomorrow we will kill you in everywhere in Libya .

ENGEL: In Tripoli , Gadhafi remains firmly in control and his propaganda machine in full force . Foreign journalists here are confined to two luxury hotels. Our movements are monitored and restricted. Tuesday Gadhafi visited one of the hotels for an interview with Turkish and French television . Despite international isolation, Gadhafi appears to have renewed confidence. Overnight on state television he continued to blame al-Qaeda for the revolt.

Colonel MOAMMAR GADHAFI:

ENGEL: "They recruited juveniles under the age of 20. They told them to chant 'God is greater, martyrdom heaven, and this and that. They gave them pills and in some cases money,'" Gadhafi said. Rebels say the claim is ridiculous, a cover for Gadhafi to crush the revolt with brutal force. Witnesses in rebel towns on the outskirts of Tripoli , including Zawiyah , tell us they are under siege and also running low on food and medicine. Ann :

CURRY: All right, Richard Engel this morning. Richard , thank you.