By Mohammed Abbas
NEAR AJDABIYAH, Libya (Reuters) - Libyan rebels trying to advance on Ajdabiyah came under intermittent shelling on Thursday from forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi holding out in the strategic eastern town.
Rebel fighters said they had dispatched envoys into Ajdabiyah to try to persuade Gaddafi's forces, now facing air strikes from Western warplanes, to give up.
"The day before yesterday, we sent an old man to talk to them to get them to surrender. They said they would take their weapons with them. We said no, leave them. So the talks failed," said Khalil Fakhri, a rebel fighter.
"We then sent another old man in the evening, and he didn't return," he said.
The rebel forces, trying to move westwards toward Tripoli, have edged a few kilometers (miles) toward the coastal town of Ajdabiyah.
Fighters armed with rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns mounted on trucks had gathered on the main road leading to the town. Their numbers were greater than on Wednesday.
At one rebel position, incoming missiles and other ordnance struck every few minutes.
Rebels had attached European Union and French flags to one truck, in a show of support for Western states that have been launching airstrikes on Gaddafi's forces as part of a U.N.-approved mission to protect Libyan civilians.
The flags fluttered in the strong desert wind.
In a signal of the lingering disarray in the rebel ranks, some fighters gave different accounts of their plans.
Some said they were waiting for French or other Western warplanes to strike again before advancing. Other rebels said they were waiting for their fighters in Ajdabiyah to finish off Gaddafi's. Others said they were awaiting orders from Benghazi, the rebels' de facto capital to the east.
"The plan today is for (French President Nicholas) Sarkozy to come and help us out. Look at the weapons we have," said rebel fighter Breig Gassar, pointing at his Kalashnikov and prompting laughter from the rebels standing around. Sabri Sherif, a rebel fighter, said: "We are waiting for (Gaddafi's forces) to use up their ammunition, then we will go in."
Reports from the frontline said Gaddafi's forces were guarding the main gate to Ajdabiyah with six tanks.
"They are waving a white flag. But they are still firing on us. It is a ruse," said Ali Misrati, a rebel fighter.
"The plan is to take that entrance. We have a group ahead hitting it with rockets. We will wait for them to have an effect before going in. There is another group going in by the desert road," he said.
One man who was leaving Ajdabiyah in a car with his family of 10 said there was no water or power in the town.
"The bombing is random. Everyone has left. On the eastern gate, the western gate, the southern gate there are Gaddafi's forces. There are revolutionaries in the town and there is fighting going on right now," he said.
(Writing by Tom Perry in Cairo; Editing by Edmund Blair and Mark Trevelyan)