Leaders from the Arab world, Africa, the United States and other Western powers are holding urgent talks in Paris Saturday over possible military action against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's forces.
France's ambassador to the United Nations, Gerard Araud, told BBC Newsnight that he expected military action to begin within hours of the meeting, which follows a UN Security Council resolution that authorizes the international community to act to defend civilians in Libya.
France is hosting the hastily organized summit in response to the recent onslaught by Gaddafi's artillery, warplanes and tanks against rebel-controlled areas. France, with Britain, was among the leading voices behind a a muscular UN Security Council resolution against Libya adopted Thursday.
Muammar Gaddafi's government declared a cease-fire Friday in an attempt to outmaneuver Western military intervention. But the opposition said shells rained down well after the announcement and accused the Libyan leader of lying. Early Saturday, a plane was shot down over the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy is expected to host leaders including Angela Merkel of Germany and Britain's David Cameron, as well as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon are also expected, along with the Qatari emir, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, and the Saudi and Emirates foreign ministers.
Action could hinge on the cease-fire: Gaddafi's foreign minister says it's in effect; rebel leaders insist the government is lying; the Western and Arab-world allies say they want proof, not promises, that it's holding.
On Friday, Britain and France took the lead in plans to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya.
Paris said it was ready for possible military action, without specifying, while Britain ordered warplanes to the Mediterranean.
"The clock is ticking and we must be ready to act quickly," Cameron said Friday, adding that Gaddafi must prove he was serious about a cease-fire to avoid military strikes.
With Libya insisting it is holding to the cease-fire, and the United States keeping quiet about its own military role, questions remain about when any action will come â€” and what its consequences would be.
In a joint statement to Gaddafi late Friday, the United States, Britain and France â€” backed by unspecified Arab countries â€” said a cease-fire must begin "immediately" in Libya, the French presidential palace said.
The statement called on Gaddafi to end his troops' advance toward Benghazi, and pull them out of Misrata, Adjadbiya and Zawiya, and called for the restoration of water, electricity and gas services in all areas. It said Libya's population must be able to receive humanitarian aid.
NATO leaders met Friday to work out the details of a flight ban over Libya, after the U.N. Security Council gave the international community the surprisingly wide mandate to defend civilians under attack by loyalist forces.
The United States has a host of forces and ships in the area, including submarines, destroyers, amphibious assault and landing ships. U.S. officials have not specified the possible American role â€” although Obama said Friday that no U.S. ground troops would be involved.
NATO military planners said dozens of fighter-bombers, tankers, air surveillance aircraft and unmanned drones could be deployed to a string of air bases along Europe's southern perimeter from which to send patrols over Libya. Officials said the operation could start as early as this weekend.
Alliance surveillance AWACS planes flying off the Libyan coast are already providing 24-hour coverage of the situation in the air and on the battlefields. Analysts said no-fly zone aircraft would be flying from NATO bases such as in Sigonella, Sicily, Aviano in northern Italy, Istres in southern France, and Ventiseri-Solenzara in Corsica.