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.For all the latest business news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
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