French jets attack Gaddafi targets
Warplanes destroy four tanks used by Libyan leader's army as military action to enforce UN-ordered no-fly zone begins.
Last Modified: 19 Mar 2011 17:26
Sarkozy has been keen to take a leading role in co-ordinating the response to the situation in Libya [Reuters]

French warplanes have bombed targets in Libya, marking the first international military action against forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, following a UN resolution to protects civilians in the country.

Al Jazeera believes four tanks belonging to pro-Gaddafi forces were hit on Saturday.

Other repors confirmed that French fighter jets had opened fire on targets in Libya, but said that only one military vehicle had been destroyed.

The move follows a meeting between world leaders in Paris to co-ordinate military intervention in Libya.

Speaking after talks those talks Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president,  steressed that the despite the UN-backed intervention, the fight in Libya belonged to the Libyan people.

"If we intervene on the side of Arab nations it is not to impose on the Libyan people, but because of a universal conscience hat cannot tolerate such crimes," he said, refering to attacks on the civilian population.

"We do it to protect the civilian population from the madness of a regime that, but killing its own people, has lost any legitimacy."

Youcef Bouandel, a professor of international relations at Qatar University, said that Sarkozy's statement was "well measured".

"He chose his words very carefully to take the moral high ground, making reference to conscience, the rights of the Libyan people ... and most importantly getting the Arab nations on board," he told Al Jazeera.

Military intervention

Several Arab leaders attended the Paris meeting, along with an African Union representative and an array of European leaders including Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, although Germany is not expected to participate in any action.

Paris has taken a leading role in co-ordinating the world's response to the situation in Libya and the attempt  to halt Gaddafi's attacks on the poorly armed rebel forces.

Sarkozy convened Saturday's talks just hours after the UN Security Council passed a resolution allowing possible military action and a no-fly zone over the Libya.

Following Sarkozy's speech, Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said the US would bring its "unique capabilities to bear" in Libya but made clear that the US had no intention of sending ground troops into Libya.

"We have every reason to fear that left unchecked, Gaddafi will commit unspeakable atrocities," she said, but did not give specific information about what US forces would be deployed.

In an open letter earlier, Gaddafi warned: "You will regret it if you dare to intervene in our country."

Early on Saturday, Gaddafi's forces moved on the rebels in Benghazi, despite calling a ceasefire in response to the UN Security Council resolution.

The move appeared to be an attempt to pre-empt Western military intervention.

Aircraft deployed

Colonel Brian Lees, a former British defence attaché to Saudi Arabia, said it would be important for intervention forces to act before the Libyan military was able to take cover among civilians in Benghazi.

"The important thing is to take out the military resources threating Benghazi, and that, I'm sure, is what they will focus on," he told Al Jazeera.

"To do that they may have to make sure that the Libyan air force is grounded and that the Libyan anti-aircraft capability is reduced."

Backing French aircraft, Denmark has sent six F-16 fighter jets to NATO's air base on the Italian island of Sicily and the UK could also deploy Tornado jets and Typhoon fighters from the British Akrotiri air base in Cyprus.

Italy offered the use of its military bases for the UN-backed military action.

"Italy, for the moment, places its bases at the disposition [of the UN-backed action] and through our co-ordination of operations we may be asked to make our assets available also,"  Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's prime minister, said.

Libyan state television said Libyans, including women and children, were holding a sit-in at the Tripoli international airport, apparently to deter any attempt to bomb the area.

Footage showed hundreds of mostly young men on the runway carrying green flags and signs in support of the Libyan leader.

Al Jazeera and agencies
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