Last Updated: Mon Mar 07, 2011 23:32 pm (KSA) 20:32 pm (GMT)

NATO launches 24-hr AWACS surveillance of Libya

US AWACS aircraft dispatched for surveillance on the Libyan skies
US AWACS aircraft dispatched for surveillance on the Libyan skies

NATO has launched 24-hour air surveillance of Libya with AWACS reconnaissance aircraft as the military alliance plans potential future steps to address Libya's violent unrest, on Monday.

"The decision was made to indeed increase the surveillance of the NATO AWACS capability, make it 24/7. We'll have a better picture of what is really going on in this part of the world," Ambassador Ivo Daalder told reporters on a conference call.

U.S. President Barack Obama earlier that NATO was considering military options in response to the situation in Libya as Britain and France are drafting a UN resolution on a no fly zone over the North African country.

Obama, speaking after talks with visiting Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, said the two countries agreed that violence by the Libyan government against its people was unacceptable.

Later the White House said the United States has not ruled out the use of U.S. ground troops for the response to the bloodshed in Libya but that option is not high on the list.

The white house also added that the United States may provide weapons to the opposition forces in Libya.

Arab Gulf states have voiced their support for a no-fly zone to be imposed in Libya, and called for an urgent Arab League meeting to discuss the situation in the North African country, according to a statement released by their foreign ministers.

"(The foreign ministers)...called on the ... (U.N.) Security Council to protect Libyan civilians, including through a no-fly zone," said a statement issued after the ministers' meeting, read by Abdulrahman al-Attiyah, secretary general of the Gulf Cooperation Council which groups regional countries.

But Russia has expressed opposition to any foreign military intervention in Libya, Interfax news agency quoted Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as saying.

"We don't see foreign intervention, moreover the military one, as a means of solving the crisis in Libya. The Libyans have to solve their problems by themselves," Lavrov was quoted as saying.

 At the U.N. Security Council, we are working closely with partners on a contingency basis on elements of a resolution on a no-fly zone 
British Foreign Secretary William Hague

Meanwhile, Britain and some other countries are working "on a contingency basis" on a United Nations Security Council resolution allowing for a no-fly zone over Libya, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Monday.

Hague told the British parliament there were "credible reports" that Libyan government forces had used helicopter gunships against civilians as supporters of Muammar Gaddafi struggle to put down a revolt against his 41-year rule.

"At the U.N. Security Council, we are working closely with partners on a contingency basis on elements of a resolution on a no-fly zone, making clear the need for regional support, a clear trigger for such a resolution and an appropriate legal basis," Hague said.

Crimes against humanity

 These widespread and systematic attacks against the civilian population may amount to crimes against humanity 
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen

Earlier, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said attacks against civilians in Libya may amount to "crimes against humanity", making it difficult for the world to stand "idly by."

"These widespread and systematic attacks against the civilian population may amount to crimes against humanity," Rasmussen told a news conference at NATO headquarters.

He said the "outrageous" response of Gaddafi’s regime to protests had created "a human crisis on our doorstep which concerns us all" and reiterated his strongest condemnation.

While he said events on the ground were fast-moving, Rasmussen added that: "I can't imagine the international community and the UN standing idly by if Colonel Gaddafi and his regime continue to attack his own people systematically."

“Conspiracy to divide Libya"

Protesters wave a Kingdom of Libya flag during an anti-Gaddafi protest in Benghazi

In response to Western moves, Libyan Foreign Minister Mussa Kussa said on Monday that the United States, Britain and France are partners in "a conspiracy to divide Libya" by contacting opposition leaders in the east of the country.

Separately, Gaddafi accused France of interference in the country's internal affairs and blamed al-Qaeda for the revolt against his regime, in an interview aired Monday by France24 television.

When asked about France's backing for the national council -- the embryonic provisional government formed by rebels in the second city of Benghazi -- Gaddafi said: "It makes one laugh, this interference in internal affairs."

"And what if we interfered in the affairs of Corsica or Sardinia?" he said, speaking in Arabic.

Libyan defected soldier (2nd L) explains how to use a rocket launcher

He claimed there was a "plot" in Libya, evoking the presence of "armed extremists," and al-Qaeda "sleeper cells."

"Libya plays a vital role in regional peace and world peace," he added. "We are an important partner in fighting al-Qaeda."

"There are millions of blacks who could come to the Mediterranean to cross to France and Italy, and Libya plays a role in security in the Mediterranean," he said, speaking through an interpreter.

Gaddafi has denied his security forces shot innocent people, and in the interview on Monday repeated his assertion that the violence was orchestrated by al-Qaeda.

"The African Union has sent a commission of enquiry to show that what is published about Libya abroad is 100 percent lies," Gaddafi said in the interview.

"The world has an image which is not based on anything and which is unreasonable," he said. "A distorted image has been formed of peaceful demonstrations."

An official at the African Union headquarters in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, said a fact-finding mission was being planned but had yet to set off for Tripoli.

France on Sunday hailed the creation of the national council by the leaders of the armed revolt against Gaddafi, and said it supported its objectives, in a foreign ministry statement.

The council met on Saturday in the rebel-held city of Benghazi in eastern Libya, declaring itself the sole representative body for all of Libya, despite Gaddafi's continued control of the capital and much of the West.

"Those who are bearing arms in Benghazi are al-Qaeda and they have no economic or political claims. They are what you call AQIM (al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb)", he added, referring to al-Qaeda's North African offshoot.

He said the national council in Benghazi "is sailing on a wave of Islamism. If ever the terrorists win... They don't believe in democracy."

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