Libyan people take part in a protest in the seaport city of Tobruk
The elite troops moved in as the defiant tyrant vowed to "fight to the last man and woman" - and warned that "thousands will die" if the West intervenes.

But the Mirror can reveal his Tripoli stronghold is now under threat from a growing army of special forces preparing to quell civil war.

Intelligence sources have told us that post-Mubarak Egyptian troops have been allowed into Libya by Tunisian soldiers - showing increasing Arab-backing for the anti-Gaddafi revolt.

The move came as a ferocious battle raged yesterday for control of the key oil port town of Brega after loyalists launched their first counter-offensive in the eastern desert in an attempt to reclaim "Free Libya".

Crack special forces troops have been secretly pouring into Libya to back the rebellion against Colonel Gaddafi.

Rebels gathered to defend the nearby airport and city of Ajdabiya, sending out the rallying cry: "Any man with a gun - come and fight for freedom!" They claimed to be pushing back Gaddafi's troops - and said they had taken a number of prisoners. One rebel, Mashala Agoub, 40, said: "The battle for Brega is crucial. It has the oil, it has the airport - it is vital to the control of the region."

Cornered Gaddafi has lashed out at international moves against his regime.

He branded the freezing of his assets abroad "an act of piracy". And he warned: "There will be no stability in the Mediterranean if there is no stability in Libya."

But western governments, including Britain, were yesterday shoring up their relations with rebel leaders.

And David Cameron stood by plans for a no-fly zone over Libya - despite international opposition. The Prime Minister said he was still considering sending RAF jets - even after America, Turkey and other nations raised concerns about the use of force, which has no UN backing.

An SAS squadron is on standby in Malta. A source claimed yesterday that plans may be under way to take out Gaddafi with a drone-style laser-guided missile.

The source added: "By just targeting him, it could save an awful lot of lives."