Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi sent tanks and soldiers into the western town of Zawiyah on Saturday morning after a day of bloody fighting which left at least 30 people dead. Gadhafi forces were trying to regain control over the town which had been in the hands of rebels opposed to his rule.

The rebellion in Zawiyah -- the closest rebel-held territory to the capital Tripoli and the site of another oil refinery -- has been an embarrassment to the authorities who are trying to show they control at least the west of the country.

According to witnesses, forces loyal to Gadhafi's regime overcame rebel positions in Zawiyah with heavy mortar shelling and machinegun fire.

The rattle of gunfire and explosions could be heard as the witnesses spoke to The Associated Press by phone. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of fears for their safety.

"Now with all the artillery, tanks and armored vehicles, we're seeing battles and killings we haven't seen in Iraq. I consider it total genocide," said a witness who spoke to Al Arabiya television.

The witness continued, saying "the battles have now entered the city. More than 15 armored vehicles entered two hours ago along with a tank. There is heavy firing in all the areas and mosques have announced 'Jihad' against these brigades."

In the East Libyan oil town of Ras Lanuf, recently overtaken by anti-Gadhafi forces, relative calm was broken when rebel fighters opened fire on a helicopter flying overhead on Saturday, a Reuters correspondent in the town reported.

There was no sign of soldiers loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in the town on Saturday, although the government had denied the rebel claim on Friday that they controlled Ras Lanuf, which appeared to be firmly in rebel hands.

Earlier Saturday, the eastern Libyan oil town was calm with the rebel flag flying above it. The flag, hoisted over a roundabout in Ras Lanuf, pre-dates the military coup that brought Gaddafi to power four decades ago and is the symbol adopted by the rebels.

A rebel checkpoint was erected at the entrance to Ras Lanuf, manned by half a dozen soldiers. When asked if the rebels were in charge of the whole town, an anti-Gadhafi soldier replied that "everything, 100 percent, it is completely safe."

"It's not a normal situation, but you have to be prepared for this situation. I am very pleased, we all are. We are finished with Gadhafi," said Saleh Mohamed, 37, who works as an administrator in an oil firm.