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Libya: U.N. approves military force as Gaddafi closes on rebels

Reuters/Goran Tomasevic

Rebel fighters flee from Ajdabiyah, outside Ajdabiyah on the road to Benghazi, March 15, 2011.


The United Nations authorized military attacks on Muammar Gaddafi's forces, after his forces closed in on the Libyan rebels and he vowed to storm their stronghold with "no mercy, no pity."

French sources said action could follow in hours, and could include France, Britain, possibly the United States and one or more Arab countries. A U.S. official said no immediate U.S. action was expected. Gulf state Qatar said it would take part but it was unclear if that meant military help.

People in Misrata said the rebel-held western city was being pounded by Gaddafi's forces on Friday morning.

"There is heavy bombardment there, explosions inside the city," said Tariq, a doctor from Misrata now in Britain, after speaking to colleagues and family by phone.

"They cannot deploy any ambulances. They think it's artillery and tanks, shelling, not air strikes."

Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam said on Friday that Libya was "not afraid" of the U.N. move, Al Arabiya television reported.

Time was running short for Benghazi, the eastern city that has been at the heart of Libya's month-old revolt.

But Gaddafi's troops did not fulfill his threat to overrun the rebel base overnight after their rapid counter-offensive brought them to within 100 km (60 miles) of the eastern city.

"We will come. House by house, room by room," Gaddafi said in a radio address to Benghazi late on Thursday.

Saif said on Friday the Libyan army would surround but not enter Benghazi and "anti-terror" forces would be sent in to disarm rebel forces, Al Jazeera quoted ABC news as saying.

Al Jazeera television showed thousands of people listening to the speech in a central Benghazi square, then erupting in celebration after the U.N. vote, waving anti-Gaddafi tricolors and chanting defiance of the man who has ruled for four decades.

Fireworks burst over the city and gunfire rang out.

Some had fled to the Egypt ian border on Thursday but said the U.N. move had given them new hope. "It's a great development. We are so thankful," said Rajab Mohammed al-Agouri, with five children. "But we are waiting for it to be implemented. We are tired of talk."

The U.N. Security Council, meeting in emergency session, passed a resolution endorsing a no-fly zone. It also authorized "all necessary measures" -- code for military attack -- to protect civilians from Gaddafi's forces.

Libya's military airfields are mostly strung along the Mediterranean coast, as are its population centers. Gaddafi's ground troops are advancing from the west along the main coast road toward Benghazi in the east.


Story by Maria Golovnina and Patrick Worsnip from Reuters.

Reuters / Fri Mar 18, 2011 5:54am EDT



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