French air force destroyed four Libyan tanks near Benghazi in the first military action in a U.N.-mandated military intervention. The US has also launched cruise missiles from ships based in the Mediterrannean Sea, and has taken the lead in military operations during the first phase, Kimberly Halkett, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Washington DC reported.
The action marks the first international military moves against the Libyan leader, and it comes a day after the UN Security Council authorised a no-fly zone over the North African country. In this first phase of the operation, named "Odyssey Dawn", the US will target Libyan Integrated Missile Defence Systems, mainly near Tripoli and Misurata, officials said. French aircraft had initiated operations by targetting Libyan air fields. It is not clear when the second wave of operations will begin, but Al Jazeera's Halkett reported that it would target Gaddafi's ground forces and tanks.
Gaddafi's troops pushed into the outskirts of Benghazi on Saturday in spite of a ceasefire his government had declared earlier. This prompted leaders meeting in Paris on Saturday to announce the start of military intervention. French president Sarkozy said an operation supported by France, Britain, the United States and Canada, and backed by Arab nations, would continue unless the Libyan leader ceased fire.
Gaddafi sharply criticised the intervention. 'This is injustice, this is clear aggression,' spokesman Mussa Ibrahim quoted Gaddafi as saying in a letter to France, Britain and the United Nations. 'Ýou will regret it if you take a step toward interfering in our internal affairs.' The Libyan government blamed the rebels, who it says are members of al Qaeda, for breaking a ceasefire around Benghazi.
Gaddafi also took the precaution to gather many people around his Bab al-Aziziyeh palace in Tripoli, apparently to avert a repetition of what happened in 1986, when his compound was bombed by U.S. warplanes 'Some 5,000 tribesmen are preparing to come here to fight with our leader. They better not try to attack our country,' farmer Mahmoud el-Mansouri told Reuters .