Libya strike - Reuters - 20.3.2011
Vehicles belonging to forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi burn after an air strike by coalition forces, along a road between Benghazi and Ajdabiyah March 20, 2011. Photo by Reuters
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More than 8,000 Libyans aligned with the rebel movement that rose up against Muammar Gadhafi have been killed in the revolt against his rule, a spokesman for the rebel movement told Al Jazeera on Sunday.

"Our dead and martyrs number more than 8,000 killed," Abdel Hafiz Ghoga said.

He criticized Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa over comments that appeared to be critical of military action by the United States and its allies against Libya.

The Arab League had called for the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya to protect civilians from Gadhafi's forces but Moussa on Sunday condemned "the bombardment of civilians".

"What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians," Egypt's state news agency quoted Moussa as saying.

Ghoga said: "Today, when the secretary general spoke, I was surprised."

"What is the mechanism that stops the extermination of the people in Libya, what is the mechanism, Mr. Secretary General? If the protection of civilians is not a humanitarian obligation, what is the mechanism that you propose to us?" he asked.

Muammar Gadhafi vowed a long war as allied forces launched a second night of strikes on Libya on Sunday, and jubilant rebels who only a day before were in danger of being crushed by his forces now boasted they would bring him down. The U.S. military said the international assault would hit any Gadhafi forces on the ground that are attacking the opposition.

The U.S. military said the bombardment so far - a rain of Tomahawk cruise missiles and precision bombs from American and European aircraft, including long-range stealth B-2 bombers - had succeeded in heavily degrading Gadhafi's air defenses.

But the international campaign went beyond hitting anti-aircaft sites. U.S., British and French planes blasted a line of tanks that had been moving on the rebel capital Benghazi, in the opposition-held eastern half of the country. On Sunday, at least seven demolished tanks smoldered in a field 12 miles south of Benghazi, many of them with their turrets and treads blown off, alongside charred armored personnel carriers, jeeps and SUVs of the kind used by Gadhafi fighters.

The strikes that began early Sunday gave immediate, if temporary, relief to Benghazi, which the day before had been under a heavy attack that killed at least 120 people. The city's calm on Sunday highlighted the dramatic turnaround that the allied strikes bring to Libya's month-old upheaval: For the past 10 days, Gadhafi's forces had been on a triumphant offensive against the rebel-held east, driving opposition fighters back with the overwhelming firepower of tanks, artillery, warplanes and warships.

Now Gadhafi's forces are potential targets for U.S. and European strikes. The UN resolution authorizing international military action in Libya not only sets up a no-fly zone but allows all necessary measures to prevent attacks on civilians.

But the U.S. military, for the time being at the lead of the international campaign, is trying to walk a fine line over the end game of the assault. It is avoiding for now any appearance that it aims to take out Gadhafi or help the rebels oust him, instead limiting its stated goals to protecting civilians.

At the Pentagon, Navy Vice Adm. William E. Gortney underlined that strikes are not specifically targeting the Libyan leader or his residence in Tripoli. He said that any of Gadhafi's ground forces advancing on the rebels were open targets.

Sunday night, heavy anti-aircraft fire erupted repeatedly in the capital, Tripoli, with arcs of red tracer bullets and exploding shells in the dark sky - marking the start of a second night of international strikes. Gadhafi supporters in the streets shot automatic weapons in the air in a show of defiance. It was not immediately known what was being targeted in the new strikes.

Gadhafi vowed to fight on. In a phone call to Libyan state television Sunday, he said he would not let up on Benghazi and said the government had opened up weapons depots to all Libyans, who were now armed with automatic weapons, mortars and bombs. State television said Gadhafi's supporters were converging on airports as human shields.

He called the international assault simply a colonial crusader aggression that may ignite another large-scale crusader war.

Throughout the day Sunday, Libyan TV showed a stream of what it said were popular demonstrations in support of Gadhafi in Tripoli and other towns and cities. It showed cars with horns blaring, women ululating, young men waving green flags and holding up pictures of the Libyan leader.

On state TV, the Libyan armed forces repeated its claim that it ordered a cease-fire - though its units continued fighting after a similar cease-fire call the night before.

In Benghazi, the rebel capital and first city to fall to the uprising that began Feb. 15, residents were celebrating the dramatic turn of events. The day before, Gadhafi's forces pounded the city of around 700,000 with artillery and tank shells and punched through the outskirts in heavy street battles. Along the tree-lined road into Benghazi, buildings riddled with pockmarks and burnt-out cars, buses and tanks gave testimony to the ferocity of the fighting.

Libya said 48 people were killed, including many civilians. That brought criticism of the campaign from the head of the Arab League, which last week took the unprecedented step of calling for a no-fly zone. On Sunday, Arab League chief Amr Moussa criticized the allied strikes, saying they went beyond what the Arab body had supported.