French Warplanes Attack Libyan Targets as No-Fly Zone Enforcement Begins
French warplanes have been spotted over the rebel-held Libyan city of Benghazi today as international enforcement of the United Nations-authorized no-fly zone begins in earnest. According to the BBC and al-Jazeera, French aircraft have destroyed four Libyan tanks to the southwest of the city. Despite agreeing to UN demands for an immediate cease-fire, forces loyal to longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi continued to advance into Benghazi, the country’s second-largest city.
“Our determination is total,” declared French President Nicolas Sarkozy, confirming that military action had indeed begun. “Our planes are already preventing air attacks on the city… Our aircraft are also ready to intervene against tanks, armored vehicles threatening unarmed civilians.”
“Colonel Gaddafi has made this happen,” stated British Prime Minister David Cameron in Paris. “He has lied to the international community, he has promised a ceasefire, he has broken that ceasefire. He continues to brutalize his own people 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.”
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters that British, French and Canadian aircraft would launch the first air strikes against Gaddafi’s forces. The Guardian reports that American warplanes were seen taking off from Lakenheath Air Force Base in England; American officials say US forces are preparing for missile strikes against Libyan targets.
Libyan forces loyal to Gaddafi continued pounding the rebel-held cities of Benghazi, Misrata and Ajdabiya, despite the cease-fire announced by the regime yesterday. A Libyan Air Force jet fighter was shot down over Benghazi (video here). It is unclear whether it was brought down by rebel troops or by international forces enforcing the no-fly zone.
Civilians as well as rebel forces are under attack by loyalist forces. The Guardian reports hundreds of cars full of refugees are streaming out of Benghazi, headed toward the Egyptian border, while residents of the besieged city of Misrata are facing a humanitarian crisis as water supplies have been cut off for three days.
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