Arab support wavers as second night of bombing begins

Donald Macintyre
Monday 21 March 2011 01:00

The first potential crack in the coalition behind the Western-led military onslaught on Muammar Gaddafi's air defences opened up yesterday when Amr Moussa, Secretary-General of the Arab League, condemned "the bombardment of civilians".

His concerns were expressed hours before a section of the Gaddafi compound was targeted on the second successive night of bombing. After a loud explosion was heard from the direction of the compound, journalists were shown a building badly damaged by a missile. There were no immediate reports of injuries among more than 200 supporters of the regime who were in the compound at the time.

Last night, the Ministry of Defence confirmed Tomahawk missiles had again been fired from a submarine off the Libyan coast. Major-General John Lorimer said: "I can confirm that British armed forces have participated in another co-ordinated strike against Libyan air defence systems."

Earlier, Mr Moussa called for a report on the first night of bombing in which US, British and French warplanes and missiles attacked airbases and other regime assets across Libya in the biggest Western military intervention in the Arab world since the Iraq war.

In telephoned remarks broadcast on Libyan State television – which said that 64 people had been killed on Saturday and yesterday – a defiant Colonel Gaddafi responded to the attacks by prophesying a "long war", declaring: "We will not leave our land and we will liberate it."

Last night, Milad Hussein, spokesman for the Libyan armed forces, said the military was "reaffirming" the ceasefire called after last week's UN Security Council vote. The practical meaning of the development was not immediately clear, however. The red tracer from repeated bursts of Libyan anti-aircraft fire was visible again against a clear night sky in Tripoli just after 6pm GMT yesterday at the outset of a second night of the operation. The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen, told NBC television it had "gone very well", and "effectively" put a no-fly zone in place. Admiral Mullen added it had also halted a regime advance on the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

Mr Moussa, who is considered a likely presidential candidate in Egypt's first democratic elections, called for an emergency meeting of the 22-member Arab League and claimed that the bombardment has "led to the deaths and injuries of many Libyan civilians".

The Arab League's decision nine days ago to call for a no-fly zone played a key role in persuading Washington to back the Anglo-French proposal for the move. Yesterday, Egypt's official state news agency quoted Mr Moussa as saying: "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."

Admiral Mullen said he had seen no reports of civilian casualties. But Russia said there had been such casualties and called on Britain, France and the United States to halt the "non-selective use of force".

Detailed numbers for those killed – and any distribution between civilians and military personnel – was impossible to establish with any certainty last night. Journalists were taken to an emotionally charged burial event at a coastal cemetery in eastern Tripoli, attended by hundreds of furious, chanting Libyans, where they were told by some of those present that three civilians were being buried – including a three-month-old girl – and that another 23 graves were being prepared. It was impossible to verify those claims last night.

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