A warplane was today shot down outside the opposition stronghold of Benghazi, as international leaders including David Cameron gathered in Paris to make final preparations to impose a no-fly zone over Libya.
The jet was observed over the city for some time before reportedly going down in flames, amid the sound of artillery and gunfire.
But Libyan authorities insisted that their forces were holding to a ceasefire announced yesterday and repeated an invitation for international observers to enter the country today to monitor it.
Deputy foreign minister Khaled Kaim told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The ceasefire is real, credible and solid. We are willing to receive observers as soon as possible, even today."
Rebel sources claim that military assaults by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi on cities including Benghazi, Misrata and Ajdabiya continued even after the ceasefire announcement.
US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice last night said the Libyan leader was already in violation of the United Nations Security Council resolution 1973, passed on Thursday, which called for an immediate end to hostilities and authorised "all necessary measures" short of foreign occupation to protect civilians.
Ms Rice told CNN that Gaddafi would face "swift and sure consequences including military action" if he ignores demands for a ceasefire.
Mr Cameron was today meeting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and representatives of Arab states in Paris for talks on the implementation of the resolution.
RAF fighter jets were deploying to the Mediterranean to join the international effort to protect Libya's people from aerial assault by Gaddafi's forces.
Neither the Ministry of Defence nor Downing Street would last night confirm whether any RAF planes had set off on their mission, codenamed Operation Ellamy, or where they would be based in the Mediterranean.
Mr Cameron yesterday said that Typhoons and Tornados, together with surveillance and air-to-air refuelling craft, would be ready to leave within hours.
France's ambassador to the UN, Gerard Araud told the BBC that today's summit would be "a good moment to send the last signal" to Gaddafi.
"I guess that after this summit, in the coming hours we will go to launch the military intervention," said Mr Araud.
In a joint statement last night, Britain, the US and France - supported by a number of unnamed Arab states - spelt out exactly what was expected from the long-serving Libyan tyrant.
"All attacks against civilians must stop. Gaddafi must stop his troops from advancing on Benghazi, pull back his troops from Ajdabiya, Misrata and Zawiyah, and re-establish water, electricity and gas supplies to all areas," said the statement.
"Humanitarian assistance must be allowed to reach the people of Libya."
And the allies warned: "These terms are not negotiable. If Gaddafi does not comply with the resolution, the international community will impose consequences, and this resolution will be enforced through military action."
Speaking in the White House after conferring with congressional leaders yesterday, US President Barack Obama stressed that Britain, France and the Arab League would take a "leadership role" in enforcing the no-fly zone and said that there would be no use of US ground troops in Libya.
While he did not say what forces the US would be committing to the operation, he suggested some American military assets would be deployed in an "enabling" role in support of the Europeans.
"We will provide the unique capabilities that we can bring to bear to stop the violence against civilians, including enabling our European allies and Arab partners to effectively enforce a no-fly zone," he said.
Mr Cameron insisted Libya would not be "another Iraq" and there would be "no foreign occupation".
"The central purpose of all this is clear: to end the violence, protect civilians and allow the people of Libya to determine their own future, free from the brutality inflicted by the Gaddafi regime," he told the Scottish Conservative conference in Perth.
Britain was committing itself to military action "at a level that matches our resources, in alliance with other countries, with the full authority of the United Nations Security Council and in accordance with international law".Reuse content