Qaddafi Continues Attacks After U.N. Approves Air Strikes [Updated]

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U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice. Photo: Stan Honda/Getty Images

Libya has called for an immediate cease-fire and said it will halt military action against rebels. The statement came today, just hours after the U.N. Security Council approved a no-fly zone in Libya and authorized the use of “all necessary measures” to protect Libyan civilians from Muammar Qaddafi's forces. Speaking to reporters in Tripoli on Friday, Libya's foreign minister, Moussa Koussa, said that in light of the country's membership in the United Nations, Libya is "obliged to accept the Security Council resolution that permits the use of force to protect the civilian population."

However, the attacks have continued. Forces loyal to the Libyan dictator shelled Misrata, a rebel-held city in the West. Tanks and artillery fire killed at least 25 today, including several little girls, a local doctor told Reuters by satellite phone. Al Jazeera is also reporting gunfire and heavy artillery clashes between Qaddafi’s forces and rebels at the southern entrance of Ajdabiya. On a call-in radio show yesterday, Qaddafi threatened the residents of Benghazi, a rebel stronghold, “We are coming tonight. You will come out from inside. Prepare yourselves from tonight. We will find you in your closets.”

The U.N. vote — which was approved by ten countries and had five abstentions — allows for all measures short of a ground invasion to stop attacks that might result in civilian deaths. The resolution demanded an immediate cease-fire in Libya and establishes “a ban on all flights in the airspace” of Libya except for humanitarian and evacuation flights. Officials from France and Britain said they would be prepared to start carrying out the resolution within hours.

The U.S. had previously balked at military involvement in Libya, but after the Arab League said they would support a no-fly zone, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton changed her position. “We want to support the opposition who are standing against the dictator,” she told a crowd in Tunisia in Thursday. “This is a man who has no conscience and will threaten anyone in his way.”

Although it's still unclear exactly how the no-fly zone will be implemented, some details have emerged. Al Jazeera's Stefanie Dekker reports that military action will consist of pairs of war planes patrolling Libyan air space, as well as backup and refueling tanks, command-and-control AWACS with high-tech radars, and a rapid reaction team in case a pilot is shot down. Although British and French warplanes are likely to lead the attack, no country is willing to do it alone.

Eurocontrol, Europe’s air traffic control agency, said today that Libya had closed its airspace because of the resolution. In Tripoli, reporters were told by the government minders who monitor them that they could not leave their hotel for their own safety because after the U.N. vote, residents might attack or shoot foreigners. Journalists who have sneaked out in the past have been detained for days.

The U.N.'s position has vindicated Hillary Clinton, days after she said she did not want to serve a second term as secretary of State if Obama is reelected. Clinton's drive to convince President Obama to intercede against Qaddafi in Libya has been so persistent that, according to Politico, the president "joked about Clinton lobbing rocks through his window during his remarks at Saturday night’s Gridiron dinner." The Drudge Report immediately dubbed the Libyan military action "Hillary's War."



*This post has been updated from its original version.

Gaddafi forces shell west Libya's Misrata, 25 dead[Reuters]
Libya Live Blog - March 18 [Al Jazeera English]
Day after saying no second term, a big win for Hillary Clinton [Politico]
Following U.N. Vote, France Vows Libya Action ‘Soon’ [NYT]
Europeans say intervention in Libya possible within hours of U.N. vote [WP]
U.N. Approves Airstrikes to Halt Attacks by Qaddafi Forces [NYT]
UN votes 10-to-0 in favor of no-fly zone in Libya [Salon]
Libya calls for cease-fire amid foreign military moves [CNN]