American, European and Arab leaders on Saturday began the largest international military intervention in the Arab world since the invasion of Iraq, in an effort to stop Muammar Gaddafi’s war on the Libyan opposition.
As the main rebel-held eastern city of Benghazi reported heavy artillery strikes and movement of government tanks and troops, world leaders meeting in Paris said direct strikes against Libyan government forces — as approved by the UN Security Council — would begin within hours. President Nicolas Sarkozy said French warplanes had already begun enforcing a no-fly zone in Libya.
Some time later, reports said a French fighter jet had fired at and destroyed a Libyan military vehicle.
Earlier in the day, as explosions rocked Benghazi, a warplane was shot down, leading to speculation that it was the allied air forces at work.
But the rebels said the plane was one of their own and had been brought down by mistake. They also said they’d managed to beat back the loyalist forces.
Al Jazeera said there were 26 dead and more than 40 wounded in one of the hospitals.
In Paris, Sarkozy — after meeting British Prime Minister David Cameron, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and other leaders — said: “It’s a grave decision we have had to take. Our air forces will counter any aggression by Colonel Gaddafi's aircraft against the population of Benghazi.”
"You will regret it if you take a step towards interfering in our internal affairs,” Gaddafi retaliated in a letter to France, Britain and the UN. “Libya is not yours. Libya is for all Libyans.”
In another letter, this one to US President Barack Obama, Gaddafi wrote: "… Even if Libya and the US enter into war, you will remain my son… We are confronting Al-Qaeda, no more."