MONROVIA, LIBERIA, AUG. 1 -- This story, from news services, is in part a pool report from correspondents in Liberia.

Liberian rebels struck back at government forces today in a fight to regain key positions they lost Tuesday in a heavy battle in the capital.

In today's street fighting, troops loyal to President Samuel Doe retained control of the Defense Ministry and areas east of the building leading to the executive mansion and the main army barracks.

But the Finance Ministry, the national bank and the telecommunications center were under control of a rebel faction led by Prince Johnson.

On Tuesday, government soldiers staged a surprise counterattack and recaptured parts of the city center from the rebels.

Most of Monrovia's 500,000 inhabitants have been without food, running water or electricity since last month.

The State Department announced today that the United States will channel 30,000 bags of rice through a Catholic relief agency to help feed Liberian civil war victims.

About 5,000 people, mostly civilians, have died since rebel forces invaded in December from the neighboring Ivory Coast.

The rebels accuse Doe, in power since 1980, of corruption and rights abuses. Doe has insisted that he will not step down or leave the country.

The insurgents have since split into two factions -- those led by Johnson and those of Charles Taylor, a former Doe aide who led the original invasion. Johnson's army has emerged as the stronger of the two opposition groups.

Taylor told Reuter correspondent Gill Tudor: "Our strategy was to let Prince Johnson into Monrovia.. Now we have Prince bottled up against Doe. We're going to destroy them {Johnson's forces} and then we're going to go on and get Doe. I will finish this war in 10 days," he said in Fifteen Gate, a road junction 30 miles from the capital.

"I could destroy the {president's} mansion tonight but I want Doe to remain strong a few more days to push Prince back to me," he added.

In New York, the United Nations secretary general, Javier Perez de Cuellar, met with Liberian Ambassador William Bull, who asked for a U.N. role in ending the seven-month civil war but did not call for peace-keeping forces to intervene.