By Adrian Blomfield, in Ras Lanuf and Richard Spencer in TDT 06 Mar 2011
"We could see the Gaddafi forces centred around Tripoli," Dr Fox said. "We could see a de facto partition of the country."
As he spoke, Libya was veering towards open civil war.
Government troops launched assaults on three rebel-held towns: Zawiya 30 miles to the west of Tripoli, Misurata 120 miles to the east, and the oil port of Ras Lanuf, taken by the opposition on Saturday.
To the west of Ras Lanuf, the Libyan leader aimed to repel a gathering rebel advance on his birthplace of Sirte 100 miles to the west.
Bombed from the skies and confronted by a barrage of artillery fire and katyusha rockets, the rebels' disorderly ranks cracked and then broke as fighters fled back to the town in panicked disarray, abandoning vehicles, weapons and even wounded comrades on the battlefield.
The government was meanwhile launching an equally ferocious propaganda offensive, claiming to journalists in the capital Tripoli and on state television to have recaptured large parts of the east of the country including Misurata, Ras Lanuf, Ajdabiya and Tobruk, and to have "driven out al-Qaeda".
None of these claims appeared to be true, but neither did it appear that Ras Lanuf was fully in rebel hands.
From the tops of buildings, loyalist sympathisers took up sniper positions and bursts of automatic gunfire echoed through the town.
For the first time on the eastern front, the rebels' lack of discipline counted heavily against them.
Defying orders to consolidate control, hundreds of volunteers had poured along the coast to the village of Bin Jawad, 15 miles to the west, on Saturday.
But under cover of darkness, loyalist forces took up positions within buildings in the village and on high ground around it to ambush the outnumbered rebels as dawn broke.
Overwhelmed by superior firepower, the overextended rebel lines collapsed under the ferocity of the battle.
"I felt like I had no weapon," said Jamal el-Goradi, a Libyan who worked in a doughnut shop in Denver, Colorado until he flew home to join the uprising late last month.
"I didn't even shoot one bullet, I just felt bullets coming at me, bombs coming at me. They had no mercy, they just wanted to kill us all."
The air force then began the most sustained aerial bombardment yet.
Sukhoi and MiG fighter jets dropped bombs and fired missiles, while helicopter gunshipsstrafed rebel positions and rockets landed close to rebel positions.
The onslaught appeared to have sapped the rebels' morale, and on Sunday night their hold appeared to be visibly disintegrating.
Libya's third city, Misurata, came under heavy tank fire. However, a spokesman for the rebel side insisted the city stayed in their hands.
In Tripoli, government officials seemed confused by the speed of events. Shooting had broken out in the capital shortly before 6am, which witnesses described as sounding like fighting.
However, officials insisted that the shooting came from citizens "celebrating the government's victory".
They later retracted most of their claims, but by then pro-Gaddafi crowds were pouring through the streets firing assault rifles into the air.
"We have beaten the enemy," said one man in Green Square, where about 2,000 people had gathered.
"Our land is free. There is no America. Everyone knows we support our leader here."