French air strike kicks off attacks on Qaddafi

By AFP
Published: March 20, 2011

A French Dassault Rafale combat aircraft, seen in this photo released by ECPAD (French Defence communication and audiovisual production agency), takes off from Saint-Dizier military base, eastern France, March 19, 2011, on a mission to overfly Libya. PHOTO: REUTERS

AL-MARJ: France launched an air strike on a target in Libya on Saturday, kicking off an international campaign to prevent Moamer Qaddafi’s forces from crushing a month-old uprising against his rule.

A French warplane “opened fire at 5:45 pm (1645 GMT) on an unspecified vehicle,” French army spokesman Colonel Thierry Burckhard told journalists in Paris, adding the military was “assured of the threat” to civilians posed by the target.

Burckhard did not disclose the location of the attack, launched under a UN Security Council resolution, or confirm reports that the target was a tank.

In the rebel camp, celebratory gunfire and honking of car horns broke out in Al-Marj, 100 kilometres (60 miles) from the stronghold of Benghazi in eastern Libya, to welcome the start of military operations against Qaddafi, correspondents said.

As thousands fled Benghazi amid an assault by Qaddafi loyalists earlier on Saturday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy told a summit of world leaders in Paris that his country’s fighters were poised to attack.

But Sarkozy said Qaddafi could still avoid the worst if he complied with the Security Council resolution by implementing a ceasefire to allow the diplomatic door to reopen.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon, however, said he was troubled by a telephone call from the Libyan prime minister on Friday night.

“He told me that the Libyan government was fully abiding by the Security Council resolution and there will be an immediate ceasefire,” said the secretary general.

“But at the same time and overnight they were attacking Benghazi. It is very troubling; whatever they say must be verified.”

Since Friday, the Libyan government has insisted it was observing a self-declared ceasefire, shortly after the Security Council voted to authorise the use of force against Qaddafi’s troops to spare civilians.

The regime said its armed forces were under attack west of Benghazi, including by rebel aircraft, and had responded in self-defence.

On Saturday, Foreign Minister Mussa Kussa said Tripoli had met all its obligations under the UN resolution and asked Ban to send observers to monitor the ceasefire.

But the rebels, who have been trying to overthrow the Libyan leader for more than a month, said government troops had continued to bombard cities, violating the ceasefire continuously.

British Prime Minister David Cameron held Qaddafi responsible for the continued violence and said that “the time for action” had come.

“Colonel Qaddafi has made this happen. He has lied to the international community, he has promised a ceasefire, he has broken that ceasefire. He continues to brutalise his own people,” Cameron told British television.

“And so the time for action has come. It needs to be urgent. We have to enforce the will of the United Nations and we cannot allow the slaughter of civilians to continue.”

Qaddafi has defied the threats against, telling Sarkozy and Cameron, main sponsors of the resolution authorising military action, that they would regret interfering in his country’s affairs.

Earlier, a huge plume of smoke rose over Benghazi, Libya’s second city, as thousands of people fled eastward after a series of air strikes and sustained shelling, said an AFP reporter in the metropolis of one million people.

Correspondents redeployed along with civilians to Al-Marj reported that Qaddafi tanks had entered the Mediterranean city by mid-morning.

A warplane crashed in flames in a residential area of Benghazi, triggering celebratory gunfire from the rebels, but an insurgent commander later admitted it was one of theirs and had been shot down by Qaddafi’s forces.

Ban attended what host France said would be a “decisive” summit in Paris with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as well as countries in the European Union, Arab League and African Union.

Late on Friday, the French presidency said France, Britain, the United States and Arab countries demanded “that a ceasefire must be put in place immediately, that is, that all attacks against civilians must come to an end.”

It added that “Qaddafi must end his troops’ advance on Benghazi and withdraw from Ajdabiya, Misrata and Zawiyah,” referring to rebel-held towns attacked or captured by government forces in past days.

“That is not negotiable,” it said, warning that if Qaddafi did not comply with Resolution 1973, he would face “consequences” from the international community and “the resolution will be imposed by military means”.

Speaking in Brazil, where he was on a visit Saturday, US President Barack Obama said “the people of Libya must be protected and in the absence of an immediate end to the violence against civilians, our coalition is prepared to act and act with urgency.”

Rebels in Misrata said the city east of Tripoli was calm on Saturday, a day after they beat back an onslaught by Qaddafi forces, destroying heavy armour but suffering 27 casualties.

But a witness said government tanks had shelled rebel-held Zintan, 120 kilometres (75 miles) southwest of Tripoli.

Meanwhile, Libyan National Oil Corp chairman Shukri Ghanem said Tripoli would honour all its engagements and contracts with foreign oil companies working in the country.

Ghanem said in Tripoli that Libyan oil production currently stood at 400,000 barrels per day, less than a third of normal output, as a result of the revolt.

In another Middle East hotspot, medics in Yemen on Saturday raised to 52 the death toll from a sniper attack on protesters in Sanaa the previous day, as thousands rallied despite a state of emergency.

The slaughter in Sanaa on Friday was the bloodiest day in weeks of unrest that have shaken the regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a key US ally in its war against Al-Qaeda.

And security forces in Syria fired tear gas on Saturday at mourners burying two men killed in a protest in the southern city of Daraa the previous day, wounding several, rights activists said.

The official SANA news agency said a committee was being formed to investigate the “regrettable” events in Daraa.

In Bahrain, beleaguered King Hamad pledged to bring in reforms as Shiite-led pro-democracy protesters against the Sunni monarchy said they would not give up despite being cleared by police from Pearl Square in central Manama.

And Clinton accused Shiite Iran of undermining stability in the Gulf by trying to “advance its agenda in neighbouring countries,” in reference to the unrest in Shiite-majority Bahrain.

Earlier, Libyan state television said hundreds of people had gathered at Bab al-Aziziyah, Qaddafi’s Tripoli headquarters, and at the capital’s international airport, ahead of expected French air strikes.

“Crowds are forming around the targets identified by France,” state television said, showing pictures of flag-waving people gathering to serve as human shields.

Last week, a highly placed French source referred to Bab al-Aziziya, a military air base in Sirte, east of the capital, and another in Sebha in the south as likely targets of a strike.

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Reader Comments (17)

  • Star Of David
    Mar 20, 2011 - 12:14AM

    Do not spare Qaddafi. Fly higher Armée de l’Air (Army of The Air), And be victorious!Recommend

  • Kamran Khan
    Mar 20, 2011 - 12:15AM

    So when are you coming to Pakistan. Here greedy dogs are waiting you people to feed them with some dollars and conduct attacks on innocent people of Pakistan. Shameless features are here waitingggggggggg with their hungry and dirty faces. It now includes our sacred institutions as well alongwith the dear politicians !!! Recommend

  • pervez
    Mar 20, 2011 - 12:45AM

    They should come and relieve us of our tyrant army here.

    we dont want to live like a puppet slave life under corrupt army and politicians.

    Get us rid of pakistan armyRecommend

  • Noor
    Mar 20, 2011 - 1:04AM

    Caution world!.

    Only Qaddafi. Not Libya!! Recommend

  • G. Din
    Mar 20, 2011 - 1:26AM

    This should not end as did the Desert Storm I during elder President Bush’s administration. If you have gone in, do it decisively. Dislodge the dictator, arrest him and put him on trial. Do not let him go as was Saddam Hussein only to enlarge the mess!Recommend

  • Realist
    Mar 20, 2011 - 1:41AM

    Cool. French have returned to reclaim their former colony and the Libyans are loving it. Ironic, isn’t it?Recommend

  • Anwar
    Mar 20, 2011 - 1:45AM

    God bless France and the French people.Recommend

  • Goga
    Mar 20, 2011 - 2:44AM

    Why not send some of the drones deployed in Pakistan there…Recommend

  • Akhtar
    Mar 20, 2011 - 4:57AM

    time for Arabs to prove that they can live as independent and free nations,they are living the lives of convenient salivaryRecommend

  • omar
    Mar 20, 2011 - 5:02AM

    I’m from chile latin america
    we do not support the war against Libya

    hopefully everything is resolved peacefully
    Americans (USA) ALWAYS PREVAILS AGAINST U.S. LAW NOW AND THEN LIBYA VA BY PAKISTANRecommend

  • Tariq Ahmad
    Mar 20, 2011 - 5:47AM

    Only a matter of days till Libya is free. Pakistan on the other hand is a sick country, its people deserve its leadership. They have never risen up on anythingRecommend

  • Billoo Bhaya
    Mar 20, 2011 - 6:02AM

    @Kamran Khan:
    Well said. The Muslim world is in turmoil because their leaders are SOBs. They loot their own kind to live in foreign lands. They prostitute themselves so effectively and become so used to it that they miss it when not in power. Look at Musharraf and then the whole officer corps. I have stories of them and their wives that I cannot express in this paper. And these events have been going on since our General Rangeela Yahya Khan was in power. The Armed Forces are good at making coup d’etat and killing their own people. They can never take on an adversary like the Taliban or the Afghan Army, what to say of India. Pakistan Armed Forces would fold up like a pack of cards. Recommend

  • Karim Khan
    Mar 20, 2011 - 7:34AM

    From Day 1 I suspected that the west is backing the rebellion. Now it’s plain obvious that they have been doing it. My supoort goes to Qaddafi. He is a wonderful ruler and I hope he beats all.Recommend

  • Pearl
    Mar 20, 2011 - 8:57AM

    Inshallah,Qaddafi will win,Americans will go to Hell.Recommend

  • Mujtaba
    Mar 20, 2011 - 10:26AM

    Objectives are much different from what apparently appears to be… Just like Sab sai phalay Pakistan… here comes the Saviour of humanity.. to save human from human at cost of humanity! Recommend

  • In God We Trust.
    Mar 20, 2011 - 12:25PM

    @Star Of David:
    Conspirators of the World will enter HELL definitely! Recommend

  • khemas
    Mar 22, 2011 - 1:36AM

    “Cool. French have returned to reclaim their former colony and the Libyans are loving it. Ironic, isn’t it?”

    Sorry dude, but Lybia isn’t a former french colony… It was italian from 1912 to 1943, before it was an ottoman empire colony.

    Sorry for my english, i’m french :)Recommend

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