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World French Jets Start Patrols As Libyan Rebels Urge Action

Jan 6, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Mar 19, 2011

French jets start patrols as Libyan rebels urge action

Mar 19, 2011, 14:28 GMT


Supporters of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi hold his posters as they take part in a pro-government rally during a rally at a hotel where journalists are housed in Tripoli, Libya, 19 March 2011. The UN Security Council on 17 March voted to ban flights in Libya's airspace and authorized military action to implement the ban, triggering intervention by individual countries and organizations like NATO. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi said the United States has no right to interfere in Libya's internal affairs as world leaders gather in Paris to decide upon implementation of a no-fly zone over the conflict-ridden state. EPA/MOHAMED MESSARA

Cairo/Tripoli - French jets reportedly began operations in the no-fly zone over conflict-torn Libya Saturday, even as world leaders were still meeting to decide the exact nature of the mission.

The reports came shortly after the Libyan opposition - which would receive a boost in its campaign against Libyan leader Moamer Gaddafi from a no-fly zone - called upon the international community to take action to save civilians in Libya.

World leaders gathered in Paris on Saturday at an emergency summit to discuss military action in Libya, although the African Union, expected to attend, did not show up.

'The international community is very late in taking action,' Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, the leader of the national council in Benghazi told the broadcaster Al Jazeera.

'We know the Arab League supported a no-fly zone a week ago, and the UN resolution was issued on Thursday. So, there is no justification that it has not been implemented yet,' he said.

Shortly afterward, the French Rafale jets began flying, reported French broadcaster BFMT-TV. Citing diplomatic sources, the broadcaster said the French jets were upholding a no-fly zone approved by the UN Security Council.

The planes were operating over the rebel-held city of Benghazi, apparently in an effort to control the advance of Gaddafi's forces on the city.

Abdel-Jalil said that residential areas in the rebel-stronghold Benghazi were under attack from government artillery and tanks.

Hospitals were flooded with victims, he said, adding that rebels did not have the weapons or numbers necessary to confront forces loyal to Libyan leader Moamer Gaddafi.

Gaddafi forces were shelling the suburbs of the eastern city Benghazi on Saturday, despite the government's announcement of an immediate ceasefire the day before.

Residents of Benghazi had been escaping to the eastern areas after pro-Gaddafi forces entered the western suburbs of the city.

Meanwhile, the government said that its armed forces were under attack west of Benghazi, the official news agency reported. The statement accused 'al-Qaeda affiliates' of attacking armed forces units stationed to the west of Benghazi.

Libya announced an immediate ceasefire Friday on all military operations against rebels after the UN Security Council passed a resolution imposing a no-fly zone over the country banning flights in Libya's airspace and authorized 'all necessary means' to implement the ban.

In a letter to world leaders read Saturday at a press conference by a government spokesman in Tripoli, Gaddafi said the security council's resolution was void because they have no right 'to interfere in the internal affairs of the country.'

'You have no right. You will regret if you get involved in this, our country. We can never shoot a single bullet at our people, it is al-Qaeda,' Gaddafi said in the statement.

He described the resolution as being 'injustice and clear aggression.'

'I have all the Libyan people supporting me and they are prepared to die for me,' said Gaddafi.

Jan 6, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada
March 19, 2011

Allies in Libya Airspace to Stop Assaults


— American, European and Arab leaders began the largest international military intervention in the Arab world since the invasion of Iraq on Saturday, in an effort to stop Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s war on the Libyan opposition.

Leaders meeting in Paris on Saturday afternoon said direct strikes against Libyan government forces, as approved by the United Nations Security Council on Thursday, would begin within hours. And President Nicolas Sarkozy said French warplanes had already begun enforcing a no-fly zone in Libya, conducting reconnaissance missions and preparing to intercept any Libyan military aircraft.

Despite an ultimatum from Western powers demanding that Colonel Qaddafi keep a cease-fire, reports of heavy bombardment and fighting came from the main rebel-held city in eastern Libya, Benghazi. Witnesses there reported heavy artillery strikes and that government tanks and ground troops were moving throughout the city. And a steady stream of vehicles, some bearing rebel flags, was seen pouring out to the east.

Even as Colonel Qaddafi defied demands to withdraw his military, including a firm ultimatum from President Obama on Friday, he issued letters warning Mr. Obama and other leaders to hold back from military action against him.

The tone of the letters — one addressed to Mr. Obama and a second to Mr. Sarkozy, Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations — suggested that Colonel Qaddafi was leaving himself little room to back down.

“Libya is not yours. Libya is for all Libyans,” he wrote in one letter, read to the news media by a spokesman. “This is injustice, it is clear aggression, and it is uncalculated risk for its consequences on the Mediterranean and Europe.

“You will regret it if you take a step toward intervening in our internal affairs.”

Colonel Qaddafi addressed President Obama as “our son,” in a letter that combined pleas with a jarring familiarity. “I have said to you before that even if Libya and the United States enter into war, God forbid, you will always remain my son and I have all the love for you as a son, and I do not want your image to change with me,” he wrote. “We are confronting Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, nothing more. What would you do if you found them controlling American cities with the power of weapons? Tell me how would you behave so that I could follow your example?”

But for Western leaders, the risks of the military intervention are probably less military than political, given the possibility of a divided Libya with no clear authority. Many of the leaders in Paris have called for Colonel Qaddafi to quit, and it may be that military intervention leads to negotiations with the opposition for the colonel and his family to go.

Even as Colonel Qaddafi seemed to be trying to wait out the West, as he has often before, Mr. Sarkozy announced that French and allied warplanes were already in the skies over Libya.

“Right now our planes are blocking airstrikes on the city,” Mr. Sarkozy said, referring to Benghazi. “French planes are ready to act against armored vehicles that would be threatening unarmed civilians.”

He accused Colonel Qaddafi of “totally ignoring” both the Security Council’s demands for a cease-fire and his own promises to abide by one. But he added: “There is still time for Colonel Qaddafi to avoid the worst by complying with the U.N. resolution. The doors of diplomacy will open again when the fighting has stopped.”

He said it was the duty of France, along with its Arab, European and North American partners, “to protect the civilian population from the murderous madness of a regime that has forfeited all claim to legitimacy.”

But he insisted that the military action was not intended to intervene in Libya’s internal affairs, but instead to “respond to the anguished appeals” of civilians who want “to choose their own destiny.”

While the United Nations resolution specifically justified military action in order to protect civilians, officials in Paris said they were interpreting the language broadly to include the protection of Libya’s armed rebel forces, which have been in all-out retreat over the past week.

News organizations reporting from Benghazi said that a fighter jet was shot down on the outskirts of the city Saturday morning, and several Western Web sites published a dramatic photo of the warplane plunging to the ground in flames after the pilot appeared to have ejected. But it was not clear whether French or other allied air forces were involved in downing the plane.

In Paris, the summit meeting was held over lunch at the Élysée Palace, and it included prime ministers or foreign ministers from Britain, Canada, Germany, Norway, Italy, Qatar, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, Denmark, Belgium, Spain and the United States, in the person of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The Arab League secretary general, Amr Moussa, a candidate for the Egyptian presidency, was also there, along with the incoming head of the league, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari of Iraq. Also attending were the European Union foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, and Mr. Ban of the United Nations.

While Arab representatives came, following through on the Arab League’s call for a no-fly zone in Libya, there were no African leaders, and the head of the African Union, Jean Ping, did not attend, instead going to Mauritania for a meeting with African leaders tasked with mediating a peaceful end to the Libyan crisis.

Washington, Paris and London had insisted that at least some Arab governments be involved, at least symbolically, to remove the chance that Colonel Qaddafi could portray the military action as another Western colonial intervention in pursuit of oil. For that reason, France also did not want the operation to be run by NATO, though American assets assigned to NATO are sure to be employed.

Before the lunch, Mr. Sarkozy met with Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Cameron and Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada — the countries with the most military assets to offer. Italy, with deep economic and historical ties to Libya, is nonetheless offering the use of its military bases for any strikes on Libya.

Earlier Saturday, residents of Benghazi reached by telephone described a heavy military assault on the city. One rebel fighter who gave his name as Mansoor said there was fighting to the west and that he said he had seen 12 army tanks moving through the city. Pro-Qaddafi snipers were atop the Foreign Ministry building, not far from the courthouse that is the de facto rebel headquarters, and there was fighting along Gamal Abdul Nasser street nearby as well.

The government spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, in Tripoli, the capital, denied that pro-Qaddafi units were attacking in Benghazi and said that only the rebels had an incentive to break the cease-fire.

The head of the rebel National Libyan Council appealed to the international community on Saturday to act swiftly to protect civilians from government forces which he said were attacking Benghazi, Reuters reported. “Now there is a bombardment by artillery and rockets on all districts of Benghazi,” Reuters said, quoting Mustafa Abdel Jalil in an appearance on Al Jazeera. “Today in Benghazi there will be a catastrophe if the international community does not implement the resolutions of the U.N. Security Council.”

The Qaddafi government appeared earlier Saturday to be laying the groundwork for a potential strike in the name of self defense.

Khalid Kaim, the deputy foreign minister, said government intelligence showed tanks, artillery and weapons from Benghazi attacking a town in the east. Government forces, he said, were holding back to observe the cease-fire.

Steven Erlanger reported from Paris, and David D. Kirkpatrick from Tripoli, Libya. Reporting was contributed by Kareem Fahim from eastern Libya, Steven Lee Myers from Paris, and Elisabeth Bumiller from Washington.




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