The United Nations authorised military strikes to curb
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, hours after he threatened to storm the rebel
bastion of Benghazi overnight, showing "no mercy, no pity".
"We will come. House by house, room by room,"
Gaddafi said in a radio address to the eastern city late on Thursday.
Al Jazeera television showed thousands of people listening
to the speech in a central Benghazi square, then erupting in celebration after
the UN vote, waving anti-Gaddafi tricolours and chanting defiance of the man
who has ruled for four decades.
Fireworks burst over the city and gunfire rang out.
The UN Security Council, meeting in emergency session, passed a resolution
endorsing a no-fly zone to halt government troops now around 100km from
Benghazi. It also authorised "all necessary measures" - code for
military action - to protect civilians against Gaddafi's forces.
But time was clearly running short for the city that has
been the heart of Libya's month-old revolution.
French diplomatic sources said military action could follow
within hours, and could include France, Britain and possibly the United States
and one or more Arab states; but a US military official said no immediate US
action was expected.
While other countries or NATO may play roles in military
action, US officials expect the United States with its extensive air and sea
forces would do the heavy lifting in a campaign that may include airstrikes on
tanks and artillery.
Gaddafi warned Benghazi that only those who lay down their
arms before his advancing troops would be spared the vengeance awaiting 'rats
"It's over. The issue has been decided," Gaddafi
said. "We are coming tonight...We will find you in your closets. "We
will have no mercy and no pity."
Residents said the Libyan air force unleashed three air
raids on the city of 670,000 on Thursday and there has been fierce fighting
along the Mediterranean coastal highway.
Past no-fly zones have had mixed success.
The UN imposed a no-fly zone over Bosnia in the 1990s, although some analysts
say the measure did nothing to stop massacres such as the 1995 slaughter of
more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the town of Srebrenica.
Ten of the Council's 15 member states voted in favour of the
resolution, with Russia, China and Germany among the five that abstained. There
were no votes against the resolution, which was co-sponsored by France,
Britain, Lebanon and the United States.
Libya said the Security Council resolution was not worth the
paper it was written on.
Apart from military action, it expands sanctions against
Gaddafi and his inner circle imposed last month. Among firms whose assets it
orders frozen are the Libyan National Oil Corp and the central bank.
All flights over Libya except humanitarian flights were
Rebel National Council head Mustafa Abdel Jalil told Al
Jazeera television air strikes, beyond the no-fly zone, were essential to stop
"We stand on firm ground. We will not be intimidated by
these lies and claims... We will not settle for anything but liberation from
It was unclear if Gaddafi's threat to seize the city in the
night was anything more than bluster. But at the very least it increased the
sense that a decisive moment had arrived in an uprising that only months ago
had seemed inconceivable.
Some in the Arab world sense a Gaddafi victory could turn
the tide in the region, weakening pro-democracy movements that have unseated
autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt and raised mass protests in Bahrain, Yemen and
By late evening, telephone lines to Benghazi and internet
to be cut.
Gaddafi's Defence Ministry warned of swift retaliation, even
beyond Libyan frontiers, to any military action against the oil-exporting
"Any foreign military act against Libya will expose all
air and maritime traffic in the Mediterranean Sea to danger and civilian and
military (facilities) will become targets of Libya's counter-attack," the
ministry said in a statement.
John Drake, senior risk consultant at UK-based consultancy
AKE said he did not think Gaddafi would strike against oil facilities or oil
companies. "He would be hurting himself."
"We don't think they have the capability to impose a
no-fly zone over the whole country
immediately, although they could try to impose one over Benghazi and maybe also
Tripoli. The UN resolution will probably come as a morale boost to the
defenders of Benghazi," he said.
Proposals for action include various no-fly and no-drive
zones, a maritime exclusion zone, jamming army communications and intelligence
help. Air strikes would almost certainly be launched to knock out Libyan radar
and air defences.
An Italian government source told Reuters Italy was ready to
make its military bases available for enforcement of the no-fly zone. The
airbase at Sigonella in Sicily, which provides logistical support for the
United States Sixth Fleet, is one of the closest NATO bases to Libya.
Former British foreign minister David Owen saw the vote as
reflecting a serious division in NATO and the EU, with Germany abstaining and
clearly unhappy about
"It's very late for this no-fly zone," he said.
"Gaddafi's forces are very close to Benghazi and may now push on."
The resolution followed a sharp shift in tone by the United
States, which had resisted calls to military action. US officials said they saw
a need for air strikes against Libyan tanks and heavy artillery to stem
The front line has moved rapidly in the last two weeks as
Gaddafi has rolled back the rebels using his air power and heavy artillery.
Residential areas of Ajdabiyah, a strategic town on the
coast road to Benghazi, were the scene of heavy fighting on Thursday and around
30 people were killed, Al Arabiya reported.
On the approaches to Ajdabiyah, burned-out cars lay by the roadside while
Libyan government forces showed the foreign media artillery, tanks and mobile
rocket launchers -- much heavier weapons than those used by the rebels.
In Libya's third city, Misrata, about 200km east of Tripoli,
rebels and residents said they were preparing for a new attack by Libyan
troops, who had shelled the coastal city overnight. A government spokesman said
Gaddafi's forces expected to be in control of Misrata by Friday morning.
US Undersecretary of State William Burns said he was
concerned Gaddafi, dubbed the 'mad dog of the Middle East' by president Ronald
Reagan in 1986, could "return to terrorism and violent extremism" and
create turmoil in the region
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