Libya declares cease-fire as EU leaders plan military strikes

France, which spearheaded last night's unexpectedly strong UN Security Council resolution on Libya, said today that strikes on Muammar Qaddafi's forces would commence 'soon.'

Charles Platiau/AP
French President Nicolas Sarkozy delivers a speech to inaugurate the new headquarters of the International Francophonie (French-Speaking countries) Organization in Paris, Friday March 18.

European leaders moved quickly to mobilize military assets against Muammar Qaddafi's forces following an unexpectedly strong resolution from the United Nations Security Council, even as Libya declared a cease-fire.

French officials said Friday morning that military strikes against Libyan forces surrounding Benghazi would commence “soon." British Prime Minister David Cameron affirmed that British forces were prepared to attack by air a wide range of Col. Muammar Qaddafi’s military, including heavy weaponry that he said threatened “a city of a million people … an ancient city” – the de facto rebel capital of Benghazi.

France, Britain, and Lebanon led the charge for a UN Security Council resolution passed Thursday evening with crucial backing from the US. Expected to authorize only a “no-fly” zone, the council instead moved to “Chapter Seven” status, the most robust option for intervention, which allows for protection of civilians and humanitarian aid using “all necessary measures."

Mr. Cameron, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and Arab leaders are to meet in Paris on Saturday for talks including specifics on participation by several Arab nations, not yet clarified. The meeting is likely to involve Egyptian military officials in discussions on how its highly capable air force could hit Libyan ground forces in an effort to boost the low morale of rebels and swing momentum back against Qaddafi.

Military aircraft are reportedly to use Italian bases located in proximity to Libya, among others. France has aircraft carrier capability in the Mediterranean. Military analysts say the expected opening gambit of European and Arab forces will aim at Libyan air headquarters and logistical support.

Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa criticized the "strange ... use of military power. This goes clearly against the UN charter."

Europe divided on no-fly zone

Europe has been divided on a “no-fly” measure in Libya, where UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reported that more than 1,000 Libyans have been killed in fighting in the past month.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been the most adamantly opposed to a "no-fly" zone. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé yesterday cancelled a meeting with Ms. Merkel to instead fly to New York as it became clear that new momentum for a broader Security Council resolution was in play.

Germany's Ambassador to the UN Peter Wittig expressed skepticism at the Security Council on Wednesday, saying the body should not move forward on the optimistic assumption that “quick results with few casualties will be achieved.” Germany abstained from the vote Thursday night.

Cameron told his parliament Friday the case for military intervention resulted from “exceptional circumstances.” He said the situation met three tests – need, regional support, and a legal basis – for determining international involvement.

"We can't stand back and let a dictator kill his people," he said, noting that the people of Libya – as well as the Arab League – had called for international help. "We can't have a failed pariah state on ... Europe's southern border."

France takes the lead

Even before the UN resolution, France took the lead in coming to the rebels' aid. It was the first nation to recognize the Libyan opposition. President Sarkozy battled German doubts over a “no-fly” zone to overcome France’s initial tepid response to the “Arab spring” revolutions.

In a Wednesday letter to members of the UN Security Council, Mr. Sarkozy said: "Together, we can save the martyred people of Libya. It is now a matter of days, if not hours."

France's initiatives in Libya are “a consequence of the president’s decision,” says François Heisbourg of the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris.

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