Bombs and missiles fell on Libya Saturday as planes and ships from the U.S., Britain and France pounded pro-Gaddafi forces that had attacked rebel positions despite Libya's promised ceasefire.
Libyan dictator Col. Muammar al-Gaddafi was defiant, claiming that the Libyan people will fight against the coalition’s “naked aggression.”
"All you people of the Islamic nations and Africa, and Latin America and Asia, stand with the Libyan people in the fight against this aggression," Gaddafi announced on state television.
A spokesman for the regime said that the international coalition chose military aggression rather than sending international observers to verify the ceasefire. The recent attack in Misrata and Tripoli caused “real harm” to Libyans, the spokesman claimed.
Gaddafi called the U.N. action “invalid” in a letter addressed to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, French president Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron.
"Libya is not yours. Libya is for all Libyans," Gaddafi wrote in the letter that was read by a spokesman. "You will regret it if you take a step toward intervening in our internal affairs."
Prior to the coalition attack, Gaddafi announced an immediate ceasefire Friday, which was seen by rebels as a means to stall for time. Afterward, pro-regime forces assaulted the rebel-held areas including the port city of Benghazi, prompting many of its residents to flee.
Over 110 Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired from American and British warships and submarines at 20 Libyan air and missile defense targets in western Libya, said U.S. Vice Admiral William Gortney during a Pentagon briefing broadcasted live.
“This is an international military effort, urged by the Libyan people themselves, and other Arab nations,” stated Gortney, who pointed out that the U.S. was partnering with other allied nations.
Gortney said the missile salvo represented the first in a multiple string of operations in Libya, adding that the coalition effort, named “Odyssey Dawn,” would prevent Libya’s authoritarian regime from striking its own people.
The missiles, which traveled close to ground-level, landed near Misrata and Tripoli, the Libyan capital. Targets included SA-5 surface-to-air missiles and communications centers.
Earlier Saturday, French jet fighters bombed pro-government military vehicles, which were used in an assault against the rebel stronghold at Benghazi. The six Rafale jets had taken off from bases in France and flown across the Mediterranean, in what is now the country’s first action since the U.N. authorized the no-fly zone on Thursday.
“What we are doing is necessary, it is legal and it is right," said British Prime Minister David Cameron. “I believe we should not stand aside while this dictator murders his own people.”
U.S. President Barack Obama announced that coalition forces have begun a limited operation in Libya, reiterating that the Pentagon did not plan to deploy ground forces, during a briefing at the White House. No. U.S. warplanes have been reported in the recent air operation in Libya, though the U.S. plans to conduct damage assessments of attacked sites.
The Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi confirmed the use of the NATO base in southern Italy as command center for coordinating strikes in Libya, according to a CNN report.
Before the international show of force, Western and Arab allies met in Paris to discuss the operation to enforce the U.N. resolution authorizing protection for the fledgling opposition movement against Gaddafi.
Canada has sent the HMCS Charlottetown and six CF-18 fighter jets, which are en route to Sicily. The French navy has deployed the carrier Charles De Gaulle, which will be the only aircraft carrier operating in the Mediterranean. France also pledged sending surveillance aircraft and two frigates.
For weeks, Libya has been plunged into violence from anti-government protests that resulted into a government crackdown against civilians. Since the protests, reports have surfaced of armed militias loyal to Gaddafi killing civilians at random. Rebels have armed themselves, and have since then fought government forces in fierce battles. A few army units defected to the rebel camp in defiance of Gaddafi’s 42-year rule.
Amidst fierce battle with government forces, pro-rebel sympathizers cheered the coalition attack. In previous days, the rebels lost significant territory in battles with Gaddafi's better-equipped and trained army. A MiG-23 fighter jet said to belong to rebels was shot down over Benghazi, Saturday – as seen in an AFP photo.
Sources associated with the rebels reported over a thousand people had died in the weeks of violence, while the regime maintains that only 150 armed rebels were killed.
In the midst of violence, evangelicals urged believers worldwide to pray for peace to come to the Arab world, which has been rocked by protests and insurrections against oppressive regimes, corruption and lack of economic opportunities for the poor throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
“When we pray for the Middle East, we should be praying mainly for conditions to prevail that sustain freedom and peace…so that the gospel would run and triumph, and millions would turn to Christ and be saved for his great glory," said evangelical pastor John Piper.
“Such conditions would include freedom for other religions too, since Christians do not spread their faith by the sword, but by proclamation and service.”