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March 18, 2011

Allied Warplanes Strike First Libyan Targets

France has taken the lead in enforcing a U.N. Security Council resolution  after French planes attacked at least four tanks belonging to forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.  

Earlier Saturday, Mr. Gadhafi sent urgent messages to world leaders, claiming that his country is fighting al-Qaida and that the United Nations resolution on Libya was invalid.

French planes on Saturday attacked military targets, including at least 4 tanks, belonging to forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. French TV reported that the Libyan tanks were attacked because they were "threatening civilian targets."

Pro-Gadhafi forces shelled targets inside the main rebel-held city of Benghazi throughout the day Saturday. Both al Arabiya TV and al Jazeera TV, quoting eyewitnesses, said tanks loyal to Mr. Gadhafi had entered Benghazi.

In another development,  Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the formation of a naval blockade near Libya.

In Paris, western diplomats held a summit at Paris’ Elysee Palace to discuss military action in Libya. French President Nicholas Sarkozy spoke after the meeting, indicating that French, Arab and other western states had begun to enforce a no-fly zone near Benghazi, but that Colonel Gadhafi could still comply with U.N. Security Council demands.

He said (the West) is intervening in Libya according to the U.N. Security Council mandate with Arab League approval in order to protect the Libyan people from the murderous folly of a regime that has lost all legitimacy by assassinating its own people. The Libyan people he adds must be able to chose their own destiny. He stresses that there is still time for Mr. Gadhafi to respect the demands of the international community, at which point diplomatic activity will resume.

In the Libyan capital Tripoli, government spokesman Ibrahim Moussa told reporters that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi had sent urgent messages to world leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, calling a U.N. Security Council resolution on Libya illegal:

He said that Mr. Gadhafi wrote that the Libyan people support him and he is ready to die for his people. He claims that Libya is fighting al- Qaida’s North African branch (AQAM) and no one else. He asks Mr. Obama what he would do, if al-Qaida captured and took control of an American city? He goes on to say that the U.N. Security Council resolution is illegal and unjust, because it infringes on the U.N. charter, which forbids meddling in a country’s internal affairs. He adds that Libya is not targeting civilians and asks outside observers to come and confirm this.

In Benghazi, former interior minister Abdel Fattah Younes, now a top rebel leader told al Jazeera TV that Gadhafi tanks were "beaten back by rebel fighters using rocket-propelled grenades."

Early Saturday a warplane belonging to rebel forces was shot down over Benghazi, crashing in a ball of smoke and flames. Rebel leader Younes confirmed that pro-Gadhafi gunners downed the plane but that the pilot ejected safely.

Arab satellite TV channels showed images of civilian homes damaged by shelling inside the city. Numerous casualties were reported. Rounds of automatic rifle fire crackled into the air throughout the day, punctuated by the intermittent sounds of explosions.

Amid the fighting, hundreds of civilian vehicles were seen fleeing Benghazi towards Tobruk and the Egyptian border. Witnesses at the Egyptian border post of Salloum saw scores of Libyans, including women and children, who had entered Egypt.

Witnesses reported that pro-Gadhafi forces also attacked the rebel-held western Libyan towns of Zentan, Nalout and Misrata. Tanks and field artillery reportedly pounded all three cities.

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