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Gadhafi Warns Rebels to Surrender As UN Prepares to Vote

Plumes of smoke rising into the sky at Benina, a civilian and military airport, outside Benghazi in eastern Libya, Mar 17 2011

Plumes of smoke rising into the sky at Benina, a civilian and military airport, outside Benghazi in eastern Libya, Mar 17 2011

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has warned rebels in the eastern city of Benghazi to surrender or face an imminent government assault. He issued the warning on Thursday, just hours before the U.N. Security Council was due to vote on establishing a "no-fly" zone over Libya.

In an address broadcast on state radio, Mr. Gadhafi said his forces will enter the rebel stronghold Thursday night and search every home. He offered an amnesty to rebels who give up their weapons and said those who do not will be treated with "no mercy."

Mr. Gadhafi predicted a swift end to the monthlong uprising against his 42-year rule, saying "we are in the last few hours of this tragedy."

The U.N. Security Council was expected to vote at 22:00 UTC ((6 p.m. Eastern time)) on a resolution that would authorize "all necessary measures" to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya and protect civilians from bombardment by pro-Gadhafi forces. The draft also ruled out any occupation of Libya by foreign forces.

The resolution is sponsored by Britain, France and Lebanon and has the support of the United States and Arab League. Western diplomats said they hope to achieve as many votes in favor of the document as possible. Arab diplomats say Qatar and the United Arab Emirates may join Western powers in enforcing a no-fly zone.

Libyan state television warned that any military action against the country will "expose all air and maritime traffic in the Mediterranean to danger." It said any civilian and military traffic in the region will become the target of a Libyan counter-offensive.

Libyan rebels say they shot down two government warplanes that tried to bomb Benghazi earlier Thursday. Hundreds of residents gathered in a main square in the city later Thursday, waving pre-Gadhafi era flags in defiance of the Libyan leader's threats.

Earlier, pro-Gadhafi forces launched airstrikes on nearby Ajdabiya and surrounded rebels holding out in the town, located to the south of Benghazi, on the edge of opposition-controlled territory.

Reports from Ajdabiya said about 30 people have been killed in fighting there since Tuesday. In the west, Libyan state television said government troops recaptured Misrata, the country's third largest city. Rebels denied the claim.

Meanwhile, the African Union announced on Thursday that it would convene a panel in Mauritania on Saturday to discuss Libya's conflict. The panel will look for ways to launch dialogue to resolve the crisis.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.