With fierce barrages of tank and artillery fire, Moammar Gadhafi’s loyalists threw rebels into a frantic retreat from a strategic oil port Thursday in a counteroffensive that reversed the opposition’s advance toward the capital of Tripoli and now threatens its positions in the east. Hundreds of rebels in cars and trucks mounted with machine guns sped eastward on the Mediterranean coastal road in a seemingly disorganized flight from Ras Lanouf as an overwhelming force of rockets and shells pounded a hospital, mosque and other buildings in the oil complex. Doctors and staff at the hospital were hastily evacuated along with wounded from fighting from the past week. The rout came even as the opposition made diplomatic gains. France became the first country to recognize the rebels’ eastern-based governing council, and an ally of President Nicolas Sarkozy said his government was planning “targeted operations” to defend civilians if the international community approves. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she would meet with opposition leaders in the U.S., Egypt and Tunisia. In Tripoli, Gadhafi’s son Seif al-Islam vowed to retake the eastern half of the country, which has been in opposition hands since early in the 3-week-old uprising. A Libyan volunteer carries ammunition on the outskirts of the eastern town of Ras Lanouf, Libya, Thursday, March 10, 2011. Government forces drove hundreds of rebels from a strategic oil port with rockets and tank shells on Thursday, significantly expanding Moammar Gadhafi's control of Libya. Libyan rebel fighters try to defend a gate of the north-central key Libyan oil town of Ras Lanuf as Moamer Kadhafi's loyalist forces approach their positions on March 10, 2011, where at least four people were killed and 35 wounded as rebels retreated under continous government rocket and sniper fire. Anti-Libyan Leader Moammar Gadhafi rebel, sit next to a mulitiple rockets launcher as flames rises from a fuel storage facility that attacked during a fighting against pro-Moammar Gadhafi fighters, in Sidr town, eastern Libya, on Wednesday March 9, 2011. A high-ranking member of the Libyan military flew to Cairo on Wednesday with a message for Egyptian army officials from Moammar Gadhafi, whose troops pounded opposition forces with artillery barrages and gunfire in at least two major cities. Gadhafi appeared to be keeping up the momentum he has seized in recent days in his fight against rebels trying to move on the capital, Tripoli, from territory they hold in eastern Libya.