NATO prepares for Libya action despite cease-fire claim

Obama warns Gadhafi to comply with UN resolution or face military attack

NBC, msnbc.com and news services

TRIPOLI, Libya — NATO allies meeting in Brussels were drawing up plans to enforce a United Nations resolution authorizing military action to prevent the killing of Libyan civilians Friday as Western leaders delivered an ultimatum to Moammar Gadhafi.

Fighting continued Friday in Libya despite the government’s declaration of a cease-fire to comply after the U.N. resolution passed a day earlier.

President Barack Obama and other Western leaders said military response would be swift if Gadhafi forces continue attacking protesters trying to end his 42-year rule.

Explosions and anti-aircraft fire were reported late Friday in the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi, but government officials insisted Gadhafi troops were not violating the U.N. resolution passed a day earlier.

A U.S. national security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Libyan troops were advancing on Benghazi. He called the movements “purposeful,” based on official reporting reaching U.S. national security agencies in Washington.

Another official told NBC news that what the Libyans declared is not a genuine cease-fire.

Gadhafi said there was no justification for the U.N. resolution, Al Jazeera.

“This is blatant colonialism,” Gadhafi said. “It does not have any justification. This will have serious consequences on the Mediterranean and on Europe. In 2011 they are colonizing us, massacring us, and imposing one no-fly zone after the other and one military attack after another. What is this racism? What is this hatred?

Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim told reporters the presence of Libyan government forces around Benghazi does not violate cease-fire rules and the army has no plans to attack the eastern rebel stronghold.

Libya has asked China, Malta, Turkey and Germany to monitor “a real cease-fire on the ground,” Kaim said.

Germany rejected the suggestion, saying the U.N. should send observers.

Earlier, the United States, Britain and France — backed by unspecified Arab countries — said a cease-fire must begin “immediately” in Libya, the French presidential palace said.

The statement called on Gadhafi to end his troops’ advance toward Benghazi and pull them out of Misrata, Adjadbiya and Zawiya. It also called for the restoration of water, electricity and gas services in all areas. It said Libya’s population must be able to receive humanitarian aid.

“This is not negotiable,” the statement said.

The statement echoed an earlier warning Friday by President Barack Obama, who said that if the Libyan leader did not stand down the United States would join in military action against him.

“All attacks against all civilians must stop,” Obama said.

“These terms are not subject to negotiation. If Gadhafi does not comply with the resolution, the international community will impose consequences.”

Obama said the United States would not deploy ground troops in Libya or use force beyond protecting people.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will travel to Paris on Saturday to join in a meeting of allies called to discuss next steps in Libya, including imposition of a no-fly zone, Obama said.

The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, said Gadhafi will face “swift and sure consequences including military action” if he ignores demands for a cease-fire.

‘Shelling as we speak’

Gadhafi had launched a brutal crackdown against rebels trying to end his 42-year reign.Tanks were closing in on the center of Misrata, about 130 miles east of Tripoli.

Al-Jazeera said its correspondent in Benghazi also reported that loyalist forces were clashing with rebels in the towns of Al-Magroun and Slouq, about 30 miles from the city.

Scores were killed in Misrata after tanks rolled in and heavy artillery bombarded the city, witnesses said.

“Gadhafi’s forces are bombing the city with artillery shells and tanks. We now have 25 people dead at the hospital, including several little girls,” Dr. Khaled Abou Selha told Reuters by satellite phone.

“They are even bombing ambulances. I saw one little girl with half of her head blown off,” he said, crying.

The doctor and another resident, who identified himself as Mohamed, said the city was still being heavily shelled despite a rebel claim that the attack had been defeated and the cease-fire announcement by Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa.

“There are 20 tanks in the city, they are killing everybody because they want to recapture the city by this evening,” Mohamed said. The sound of heavy artillery could be heard in the background.

A rebel fighter said insurgents had beaten back the attack, despite the heavy weapons used by Gadhafi’s forces and the fact that the city of 300,000, the last big rebel stronghold in western Libya, has been under siege for days.

Tariq, a doctor based in Britain who has been regularly calling residents inside the city, said: “They are still shelling as we speak. The foreign minister obviously lives in a different time zone. It’s indiscriminate.”

Rebels said the attack on Misrata started at 7 a.m. (1 a.m. EST), hours after the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution. Shells hit several mosques, schools and residential buildings.

‘Bombardment’

“It’s the heaviest bombardment I have seen so far. We believe they (Gadhafi’s forces) want to enter the city at any cost before the international community starts implementing the U.N. resolution,” said Saadoun, a rebel fighter.

“On behalf of all the people of Misrata, the women, the children and the elderly, we call on the international community to do something before it’s too late. They must act now,” he said. “They already failed us before and were late in taking a decision, they should not repeat the same mistake.”

Gadhafi’s forces have repeatedly attacked Misrata in the past two weeks. Water supplies have been cut off, there are frequent power cuts and communications are very difficult, residents said.

There were also reports of fighting further west, near the border with Tunisia. Rebels in the town of Nalut said they attacked government positions close to the border on Friday morning, and that four government soldiers and one insurgent were killed in the fighting.

“We have to be very cautious. He is now starting to be afraid, but on the ground the threat has not changed,” a French spokesman said. Britain, like France a strong advocate of armed action, said it would judge Gadhafi by “actions, not his words”.

Video: Maceda: Fighting continues despite Libyan ceasefire (on this page)

Al Arabiya quoted one of Gadhafi’s sons as saying Libya was not afraid of the U.N.’s no-fly zone resolution. Al Arabiya did not say where or when Saif al-Islam made the remark.

Libya also closed its air space to all traffic Friday, European air traffic control organization Eurocontrol said. Eurocontrol said it had received information from Malta that Tripoli air traffic control had put out a notice saying it was not accepting any aircraft into Libyan airspace “until further notice.”