libya tank celebration 311.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
NATO will use force if necessary to enforce a “robust” arms blockade on Libya,
the operation head said Thursday after Turkey – the military alliance’s only
Muslim member – appeared to firm up its previously hesitant
Coalition warplanes struck targets deep inside the country on
Thursday, but failed to prevent tanks from reentering the rebel-held city of
Misrata and besieging its main hospital. A Libyan government spokesman said the
civilian death toll had reached almost 100 and accused Western governments of
fighting on the side of the rebels. Western forces deny that any have been
killed in the strikes.
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“We will ensure the free flow of legitimate
shipping which the people of Libya need,” V.-Adm. Rinaldo Veri, head of
Operation Unified Protector, told a news conference at NATO’s Southern Europe
headquarters in Naples.
Reuters reported that Turkey’s Foreign Minister
Ahmet Davutoglu had agreed with NATO allies on conditions for the military bloc
to assume full control of the operation. Davutoglu reportedly said NATO would
take full control of military activity within a day or two.
Thursday, Turkey’s parliament approved a government decision to join the NATO
naval operation, agreeing to send four frigates, a submarine and a support
The United States wants to hand over command of the air campaign
to NATO within days, but Turkey’s insistence on conditions has held up any
agreement on the issue.
Turkey wants NATO to have sole control of
military operations and does not want to see the alliance conducting offensive
operations that could harm civilians or to be in charge of enforcing a nofly
zone while a smaller coalition’s planes are bombing Libyan forces.
Thursday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan took a swipe at France,
saying that the same people who were reluctant to let Turkey into the European
Union now spoke in terms of “crusades” in Libya, a reference to a loose comment
by the French interior minister.
He voiced suspicion that some seeking to
act outside NATO had their eyes on Libya’s oil, while President Abdullah Gul
said the coalition lacked an agreed policy, planning and exit strategy, and that
Libya could be “looted” like Iraq.
The African Union invited
representatives of Gaddafi’s government, the Libyan opposition and others to
talks in Addis Ababa on Friday, the union’s Chairman Jean Ping said. Ping said
Thursday that Gaddafi wanted to send his prime minister and that officials from
the EU, UN Security Council, and neighboring Arab countries had also been
invited to Ethiopia to discuss the Libyan crisis.
In Naples, Veri said
his force had begun operations on Wednesday evening with ships already in the
area, but had not detected any attempt to breach the embargo so far.
said Italy, Britain, Greece, the United States, Canada, Spain and Turkey had
already contributed or committed ships or other military assets and that he
hoped more would join.
Veri noted that UN Security Council Resolution
1973 authorized “any means” to prevent arms or mercenaries from entering Libya.
If forces from participating nations encountered any resistance, “the use of
force may be necessary,” he said. “My task group commanders are empowered to
enforce the embargo robustly all the way up to a full boarding.”
acknowledged, however, that NATO could not hermetically seal off Libya or
succeed in fully blocking arms or mercenaries.
“The maritime route is the
easiest way of getting arms into Libya. What we are doing now is cutting off
that area. I know we cannot close all the windows, but one thing for sure is
that we are closing the main front door,” he said.
On the ground,
Gaddafi’s tanks rolled back into Misrata under cover of darkness and shelled the
area near the hospital, which was also under fire from government snipers,
residents and rebels said.
Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim
said strikes had hit military and civilian compounds in the central Jufrah
region and other targets in Tripoli, Misrata and south of Benghazi in the east,
home to an emerging alternative government.
Libyan officials took
journalists to a Tripoli hospital to see 18 male corpses, some charred beyond
recognition, saying they were military personnel and civilians killed by Western
It was the first time foreign reporters had been shown
alleged victims of the air strikes, and it was not possible to verify how many