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Sun 20 Mar 2011 07:36 PM

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Allied air forces continue missions over Libya

Qatari aircraft set to join air patrols as European, US forces continue to enforce no fly zone

Allied air forces continue missions over Libya
The USS Barry launches a Tomahawk missile in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn. (Getty Images)
Allied air forces continue missions over Libya
Canadian F18 Hornet fighters arrive at the air base of Trapani Birgi in the southern island of Sicily. (AFP/Getty Images)
Allied air forces continue missions over Libya
Libyans celebrate in Benghazi. (AFP/Getty Images)
Allied air forces continue missions over Libya
US, European and Arab leaders pose for a photo at the Elysee Palace in Paris after a Libya crisis summit. (AFP/Getty Images)

Western forces pounded Libya's

air defences and patrolled its skies on Sunday, but their day-old

intervention hit a diplomatic setback as the Arab League chief

condemned the "bombardment of civilians".

As European and US forces unleashed warplanes and cruise

missiles against Muammar Gaddafi's air defences and armour, the

Libyan leader said the air strikes amounted to terrorism and

vowed to fight to the death.

While his eastern forces fled from the outskirts of Benghazi

in the face of the allied air attacks, Gaddafi sent tanks into

Misrata, the last rebel-held city in western Libya. Among the

densely packed houses full of civilians, they were less

vulnerable to attack from the air.

A Libyan government health official said 64 people had been

killed in the Western bombardment overnight, but it was

impossible to verify the report as government minders refused to

take reporters in Tripoli to the sites of the bombings.

On Sunday evening heavy anti-aircraft fire could be heard

over central Tripoli for a second night.

Arab League chief Amr Moussa called for an emergency meeting

of the group of 22 states to discuss Libya. He requested a

report into the bombardment, which he said had "led to the

deaths and injuries of many Libyan civilians".

"What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing

a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians

and not the bombardment of more civilians," Egypt's state news

agency quoted Moussa as saying.

Arab backing for a no-fly zone provided crucial underpinning

for the passage of a U.N. Security Council resolution last week

that paved the way for Western action to stop Gaddafi killing

civilians as he fights an uprising against his rule.

The intervention is the biggest against an Arab country

since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Withdrawal of Arab support

would make it much harder to pursue what some defence analysts

say could in any case be a difficult, open-ended campaign with

an uncertain outcome.

A senior US official rebuffed Moussa's comments.

"The resolution endorsed by Arabs and UNSC (the United

Nations Security Council) included 'all necessary measures' to

protect civilians, which we made very clear includes, but goes

beyond, a no-fly zone," the official told Reuters during a visit

by President Barack Obama to Rio de Janeiro.

A senior US military official also said the United States

expected to conduct more strikes on Libya.

The US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike

Mullen, said the no-fly zone was effectively in place. But he

told CBS the endgame of military action was "very uncertain" and

acknowledged it could end in a stalemate with Gaddafi.

Mullen said he had seen no reports of civilian casualties

from the Western strikes. But Russia said there had been such

casualties and called on Britain, France and the United States

to halt the "non-selective use of force".

Libyan state television showed footage from an unidentified

hospital of what it called victims of the "colonial enemy". Ten

bodies were wrapped up in white and blue bed sheets, and several

people were wounded, one of them badly, the television said.

Western intervention, after weeks of diplomatic wrangling,

was welcomed with a mix of apprehension and relief in Benghazi,

where the main hospital was filled with men, women and children

wounded in Saturday's assault on the city by Gaddafi's forces.

"We salute France, Britain, the United States and the Arab

countries for standing with Libya. But we think Gaddafi will

take out his anger on civilians. So the West has to hit him

hard," said civil servant Khalid al-Ghurfaly, 38.

Outside the eastern city, the advance by Gaddafi's troops

was stopped in its tracks with smouldering, shattered tanks and

troop carriers littering the main road. The charred bodies of at

least 14 government soldiers lay scattered in the desert.

"Gaddafi is like a chicken and the coalition is plucking his

feathers so he can't fly. The revolutionaries will slit his

neck," said Fathi Bin Saud, a 52-year-old rebel carrying a

rocket-propelled grenade launcher, surveying the devastation.

Rebels who have been fighting for a month to end Gaddafi's

41 years in power advanced south from Benghazi towards the

strategic junction at Ajdabiyah, which they lost last week.

But in Misrata, east of Tripoli, residents said government

tanks and snipers had entered the centre of the city after a

base outside it had been hit by Western air strikes.

"Two people were killed so far today by snipers. They

(snipers) are still on the rooftops. They are backed with four

tanks, which have been patrolling the town. It's getting very

difficult for people to come out," one Misrata resident, called

Sami, told Reuters by telephone.

"There are also boats encircling the port and preventing aid

from reaching the town."

Abdelbasset, a spokesman for the rebels in Misrata, told

Reuters: "There is fighting between the rebels and Gaddafi's

forces. Their tanks are in the centre of Misrata ... There are

so many casualties we cannot count them."

French planes fired the first shots of the intervention on

Saturday, destroying tanks and armoured vehicles near Benghazi.

The eastern city is the cradle of the revolt, inspired by Arab

uprisings that toppled the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt.

France sent an aircraft carrier towards Libya and its planes

were over the country again on Sunday, defence officials said.

Britain said its planes had targeted Libya's air defences,

mainly around the capital Tripoli.

US and British warships and submarines launched 110

Tomahawk missiles overnight against air defences around Tripoli

and Misrata, U.S. military officials said.

They said US forces and planes were working with Britain,

France, Canada and Italy in operation "Odyssey Dawn". Four

Danish fighter planes took off from a base in Italy, apparently

to join the mission over Libya.

Aircraft from other countries, including Qatar, were also

approaching Libya to participate in the operation, Mullen said.