Sunday, March 20, 2011

French jets resume Libya sorties

French jets resume Libya sorties

French jets have begun a second day of operations over Libya to enforce a no-fly zone against Col Muammar Gaddafi's forces.

Countries including Spain, Italy, Denmark and Norway are joining the operation

The 15 planes patrolled Libyan airspace but did not open fire because they met no resistance, a spokesman said.

France also says Qatar is to about to deploy four planes to the operation.

The move would make Qatar the first Arab country to play an active part in the campaign against Col Gaddafi, who has been battling a month-long revolt.

Spain, Italy, Denmark and Norway have also committed more military assets, after more than 120 missiles were fired overnight against Libyan targets.

The head of the Arab League appears to have criticised the severity of the bombardment.

His comments are significant because the Arab League's support for the no-fly zone was a key factor in getting UN Security Council backing for the resolution authorising the move.

"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," said Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa.

 Moving into position

US military chief Adm Mike Mullen said the initial raids had been "successful".

US fighter planes and B-2 stealth bombers were involved, Pentagon officials said.

Cruise missiles hit at least 20 air-defence sites in the capital, Tripoli, and the western city of Misrata, they said.

After an attack by French planes near the rebel-held city of Benghazi, some 14 bodies were lying near destroyed military vehicles outside the city, Reuters reported.

Denmark and Norway are each sending six planes, though Norway has said it will take at least five days before its aircraft can join operations. Spain has sent at least three planes, plus a refuelling aircraft, while Italy also has jets ready to deploy.

Col Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam called the attack a "big mistake".

"Believe me, one day you will wake up and you will find out that you were supporting the wrong people and you had made a big mistake in supporting those people," he told Christiane Amanpour for ABC This Week. "It's like the WMD [weapons of mass destruction] in Iraq. It's another story."

Libyan TV has broadcast footage it says showed some of the 150 people wounded in the attacks. It said 48 people had been killed.

There was no independent confirmation of the deaths and UK Finance Minister George Osborne told the BBC that such claims should be treated with caution as the military was striving to avoid civilian casualties.

Adm Mullen also said he had not received any reports of civilian deaths or injuries.

A rebel spokesman in Misrata told the BBC that pro-Gaddafi forces had launched fresh attacks on Sunday with heavy shelling in the city.

Inch by inch

"We promise you a long, drawn-out war with no limits," Col Gaddafi said in a phone call to Libyan state TV on Sunday morning.

He said Western forces had no right to attack Libya, which had done nothing to them.

"We will fight inch by inch," he said while a sculpture of a golden fist crushing a US jet was being shown.

He earlier said he would open arms depots to the people to defend Libya and described the attacks as "crusader aggression".

Western forces began their actions on Saturday after pro-Gaddafi troops attacked the main rebel-held city of Benghazi.

The BBC's Kevin Connolly, in the rebel-held eastern city of Tobruk, says that once the air-defence systems are taken out, combat aircraft can patrol Libyan airspace more widely. It will then become clear to what extent they will attack Col Gaddafi's ground forces.

This will determine the outcome of the campaign, he adds.

Russia and China, which abstained from the UN Security Council resolution approving the use of force in Libya, have urged all parties to stop fighting, as has the African Union.

Col Gaddafi has ruled Libya for more than 40 years. An uprising against him began last month after the long-time leaders of neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt were toppled.