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NATO Takes Command of Libya No-Fly Zone

Libyan rebel fighters take cover during a shelling along Benghazi -Ajdabiyah road near Ajdabiyah March 24, 2011.
Libyan rebel fighters take cover during a shelling along Benghazi -Ajdabiyah road near Ajdabiyah March 24, 2011.

NATO member states have agreed to assume command of a no-fly zone over Libya, and are considering whether to take on broader responsibilities outlined in two U.N. Security Council resolutions.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Thursday the alliance's operation will begin in the next three days, and will proceed alongside the bombing campaign carried out by international coalition aircraft.

Rasmussen said that at the moment "there will still be a coalition operation and a NATO operation." He said a decision on NATO assuming broader authority for the international campaign in Libya could come within a couple of days.

Turkey, which is NATO's sole Muslim member, agreed to the plan earlier Thursday after a four-way telephone conference between U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her Turkish, French and British counterparts. Ankara had sought assurances that the NATO operation would be limited and would avoid casualties among Muslim civilians.

Also Thursday, the U.S. and France announced that the United Arab Emirates will contribute 12 planes to enforce the no-fly zone. The Gulf nation of Qatar already has joined the effort.

Coalition forces carried out strikes against pro-government targets in Libya Thursday, as the African Union announced it is hosting talks aimed at trying to halt the fighting.

The AU said it will host a meeting on Libya at its headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The Reuters news agency says that among those invited to Friday's meeting are representatives of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's government and Libyan opposition leaders.

Reuters quotes AU chairman Jean Ping as saying the union wants to see a ceasefire, humanitarian assistance, protection for civilians and some kind of response to Libyans' demands for democracy.

French fighter jets shot down a Libyan government warplane Thursday over the city of Misrata. The French military says it carried out airstrikes deep in Libya's interior, targeting an air base 250 kilometers south of the Mediterranean coast.

Forces loyal to Mr. Gadhafi continued to strike rebel-held strongholds in the coastal cities of Ajdabiya and Misrata.

The French News Agency, AFP, quotes a doctor in Misrata as saying that attacks by pro-Gadhafi forces have killed at least 109 people in the city and wounded more than 1,300 in the past week.

Also Thursday, several explosions were reported east of the Libyan capital, Tripoli.

Some information for this report provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.