TRIPOLI - Western forces hit targets along the Libyan coast on Saturday, using strikes from air and sea to force Muammar Gaddafi's troops to cease fire and end attacks on civilians.
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Libyan state television said 48 people had been killed and 150 wounded in the allied air strikes. It also said there had been a fresh wave of strikes on Tripoli early on Sunday.
There was no way to independently verify the claims.
CBS News on its website said on Sunday that three US B-2 stealth bombers
had dropped 40 bombs on a "major Libyan airfield" that was not further
identified. A Pentagon spokesman said he had no information about such
French planes fired the first shots in what is the biggest international
military intervention in the Arab world since the 2003 invasion of
Iraq, destroying tanks and armored vehicles in the region of the rebels'
eastern stronghold, Benghazi.
Hours later, US and British warships and submarines launched 110
Tomahawk missiles against air defenses around the capital Tripoli and
the western city of Misrata, which has been besieged by Gaddafi's
forces, US military officials said.
They said US forces and planes were working with Britain, France, Canada and Italy in operation "Odyssey Dawn".
Gaddafi called it "colonial, crusader" aggression.
"It is now necessary to open the stores and arm all the masses with all
types of weapons to defend the independence, unity and honor of Libya,"
he said in an audio message broadcast on state television hours after
the strikes began.
Meanwhile, officials in Washington and Europe expressed concern that
Gaddafi could use stockpiles of Mustard Gas against his own people if he
becomes desperate. According to a Washington Post report, Western
reconnaissance satellites have been keeping close tabs on Libya's
chemical weapons stores.
Officials said that the possibility of Gaddafi resorting to, or having
the capacity to deliver the chemical weapons was unlikely. Last week,
however, Libya's former ambassador to the United Nations Abdurrahman
Mohamed Shalgham warned that, “I do expect that he’s going to attack
Benghazi with chemical weapons,” if the fighting reaches the rebel stronghold.
China and Russia, which abstained in the UN Security Council vote last
week endorsing intervention, expressed regret at the military action.
China's Foreign Ministry said it hoped the conflict would not lead to a
greater loss of civilian life.
Explosions and heavy anti-aircraft fire rattled Tripoli in the early
hours of Sunday. The shooting was followed by defiant shouts of "Allahu
Akbar" that echoed around the city center.
Libyan state television showed footage from an unidentified hospital of
what it called victims of the "colonial enemy". Ten bodies were wrapped
up in white and blue bed sheets, and several people were wounded, one of
them badly, the television said.
Tripoli residents said they had heard an explosion near the eastern
Tajoura district, while in Misrata they said strikes had targeted an
airbase used by Gaddafi's forces.
A Reuters witness in the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi reported
loud explosions and anti-aircraft fire, but it was unclear which side
The intervention, after weeks of diplomatic wrangling, was welcomed in Benghazi with a mix of apprehension and relief.
"We think this will end Gaddafi's rule. Libyans will never forget
France's stand with them. If it weren't for them, then Benghazi would
have been overrun tonight," said Iyad Ali, 37.
"We salute France, Britain, the United States and the Arab countries for
standing with Libya. But we think Gaddafi will take out his anger on
civilians. So the West has to hit him hard," said civil servant Khalid
al-Ghurfaly, 38.Gaddafi seen losing grip on Libya
The strikes, launched from some 25 ships, including three US submarines,
in the Mediterranean, followed a meeting in Paris of Western and Arab
leaders backing the intervention.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said participants had agreed to use
"all necessary means, especially military" to enforce the Security
Council resolution calling for an end to attacks on civilians.
"Colonel Gaddafi has made this happen," British Prime Minister David
Cameron told reporters after the meeting. "We cannot allow the slaughter
of civilians to continue."
Some analysts have questioned the strategy for the military
intervention, fearing Western forces might be sucked into a long civil
war despite a US insistence -- repeated on Saturday -- that it has no
plans to send ground troops into Libya.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper suggested that outside powers
hoped their intervention would be enough to turn the tide against
Gaddafi and allow Libyans to force him out.
"It is our belief that if Mr. Gaddafi loses the capacity to enforce his
will through vastly superior armed forces, he simply will not be able to
sustain his grip on the country."
But analysts have questioned what Western powers will do if the Libyan
leader digs in, especially since they do not believe they would be
satisfied with a de facto partition which left rebels in the east and
Gaddafi running a rump state in the west.
One participant at the Paris meeting said Clinton and others had
stressed Libya should not be split in two. And on Friday, Obama
specifically called on Gaddafi's forces to pull back from the western
cities of Zawiyah and Misrata as well from the east.
"It's going to be far less straightforward if Gaddafi starts to move
troops into the cities which is what he has been trying to do for the
past 24 hours," said Marko Papic at the STRATFOR global intelligence
"Once he does that it becomes a little bit more of an urban combat
environment and at that point it's going to be difficult to use air
power from 15,000 feet to neutralize that."
The Libyan government has blamed rebels, who it says belong to al-Qaida, for breaking a ceasefire it announced on Friday.
In Tripoli, several thousand people gathered at the Bab al-Aziziyah
palace, Gaddafi's compound bombed by US warplanes in 1986, to show their
"There are 5,000 tribesmen that are preparing to come here to fight with
our leader. They better not try to attack our country," said farmer
"We will open up Libya's deserts and allow Africans to flood to Europe to blow themselves up as suicide bombers."