Libya Cease Fire Declared by Gadhafi

Mar 18, 2011, 11:27

The Libyan government Friday declared an immediate cease-fire against anti-government protesters, the country's Foreign Ministry announced.

The decision followed by less than a day a U.N. Security Council vote authorizing "all necessary measures" to protect civilians, including imposition of a no-fly zone over Libyan airspace, short of an occupation.

Libya's government said it was declaring a cease-fire "to protect civilians," the BBC reported.

Earlier, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi vowed retaliatory attacks on aircraft, including passenger planes, if foreign countries undertake airstrikes against his country.

The Libyan Defense Ministry said in a statement "any foreign military act" would set up "all air and maritime traffic in the Mediterranean Sea" as targets for a counterattack, the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph reported Friday.

The threat came after the United States formally backed a British and French initiative for a no-fly zone over Libya and other military action against Gadhafi's regime.

The U.N. Security Council Thursday approved airstrikes to impose a no-fly zone by a vote of 10-0 with five abstentions, including China and Russia.

Since protesters began rallying against Gadhafi's regime in mid-February, Libya has slipped into civil war, humanitarian organizations said. Heavily armed pro-Gadhafi forces have attacked rebel strongholds on land and by air. Rights organizations estimate 1,000 to 2,000 people have died.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, during a visit to Tunisia, said a no-fly zone would involve bombing ground targets.

"A no-fly zone requires certain actions taken to protect the planes and the pilots, including bombing targets like the Libyan defense systems," she said.

"Gadhafi must go," she said, calling him "a ruthless dictator that has no conscience and will destroy anyone or anything in his way."

The Daily Telegraph reported the first bombing raids, possibly by unmanned aircraft, could be Friday.

Gadhafi urged rebels in Benghazi to surrender, warning his forces were "coming tonight. � There will be no mercy."

Benghazi is considered the rebels' base of operations.

In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney said, "We are very concerned about the situation in Libya and the violence that is being perpetrated by the Gadhafi regime against its people. We are acting with a great sense of urgency together with our international partners to take the kinds of actions that we believe will protect Libyan citizens and move towards a situation where Gadhafi is no longer in power."

NATO ministers were to meet Friday to decide on the military alliance's involvement, officials said. The alliance could take action, but Germany's U.N. abstention and a possible objection from Turkey could be obstacles, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Among the options being discussed is the use of manned and unmanned aircraft against Gadhafi's tanks, personnel carriers and infantry positions, with sorties being flown out of U.S. and NATO bases in the southern Mediterranean, the Journal reported.

Washington's options included providing airborne early warning and control, or AWACS, radar planes, as well as signal-jamming aircraft and some 400 U.S. Marines aboard two amphibious assault ships. The U.S. had no plans to insert ground forces into Libya, officials said.

The United States, Britain and France insisted military actions not be led by NATO to avoid the appearance of the West attacking a Muslim country, The New York Times reported. They also were also adamant that members of the League of Arab States, which called on the United Nations to impose a no-fly zone, take part in the military actions and help pay for the operations.

Source: UPI