Libya live blog: U.S. poised to launch cruise missiles, Defense official says

 

An AWACS radar plane from NATO taxis after landing Saturday on Sicily, within easy reach of Libya.
March 19th, 2011
02:35 PM ET

The latest developments on the situation in Libya, where the government declared a cease-fire Friday after the United Nations voted to impose a no-fly zone in response to weeks of bloody clashes between forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi and rebels. Read our complete story and check out our full coverage onunrest in the Arab world. Also, don’t miss a gripping, high-resolution gallery of images from Libya.

[2:32 p.m. ET, 9:32 p.m. in Libya] A U.S. defense official said the United States is poised to launch cruise missiles from warships in the Mediterranean Sea, and that these strikes would target Moammar Gadhafi’s air defenses. The United States is prepared to “defend its allies flying over Libyan airspace and enforce the no-fly zone,” the official said.

[1:15 p.m. ET, 8:15 p.m. in Libya] French planes fired on a Libyan military vehicle Saturday evening, according to the French Defense Ministry.

[12:43 p.m. ET, 7:43 p.m. in Libya] The United States is standing with its allies and partners in enforcing the U.N. resolution on Libya, and it is also behind the Libyan people, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Saturday. “We will stand with the people of Libya and we will not waiver (in our effort) to protect them,” she said.

[12:39 p.m. ET, 7:39 p.m. in Libya] Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised the Arab League’s stance on Libya, saying it “changed the diplomatic landscape.” The group last week approved the establishment of a no-fly zone in Libya.

[12:36 p.m. ET, 7:36 p.m. in Libya] The Libyan government “has lost all legitimacy,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Saturday, adding that the international community is right to enforce immediately the United Nations resolution. “Further delay will only put more civilians at risk,” she said in Paris.

[12:34 p.m. ET, 7:34 p.m. in Libya] Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that despite talk of a cease-fire from Libya, Moammar Gadhafi “continues to defy the world.” “His attacks on civilians go on,” she told reporters Saturday.

[11:04 a.m. ET, 6:04 p.m. in Libya] The French air force is opposing any aggression by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi against the population of rebel-held Benghazi, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Saturday. “As of now, our aircraft are preventing planes from attacking the town,” Sarkozy said. “Our French aircraft are ready to intervene against tanks.”

[10:58 a.m. ET, 5:58 p.m. in Libya] Countries attending a meeting in Paris sent Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi a warning, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Saturday.

“If there is not an immediate cease-fire and withdrawal of the forces that have been attacking civilian populations in the last few weeks, our countries will have recourse to military means,” Sarkozy said. Sarkozy said the warning was endorsed by all participants at the Paris summit.

Libya’s population “must not be deprived of its rights by violence and terror,” Sarkozy said. “There is still time for Colonel Gadhafi to avoid the worst, by complying immediately and unreservedly with all the demands of the international community. The doors of diplomacy will open once again when the aggression stops.”

[10:51 a.m. ET, 5:51 p.m. in Libya] U.S., European and Arab leaders met Saturday at a last-minute Paris meeting on Libya.  “There is minute-by-minute consultation between the United States and the militaries of other countries that are considering their support of action” under a U.N. resolution authorizing the use of force, a senior State Department official told reporters.

[10:40 a.m. ET, 5:40 p.m. in Libya] A French official confirms that French fighter jets are flying over Libya.

[9:55 a.m. ET, 4:55 p.m. in Libya] Moammar Gadhafi’s military forces pushed into the rebel stronghold of Benghazi on Saturday. Artillery rounds landed inside the city, and pro-Gadhafi tanks rolled into the town firing rounds, witnesses said. Plumes of smoke rose in Benghazi as civilians said buildings came under small arms fire.

[7:35 a.m. ET, 2:35 p.m. in Libya] Oil production has been dropping and Libya wants foreign and Libyan employees to go back to the oil fields, Libyan oil minister Shukri Ghanem told reporters Saturday.

[6:19 a.m. ET Saturday, 1:19 p.m. in Libya] Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s government on Saturday sent harsh messages to leaders such as U.S. President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy. “You have no right ever to intervene in our internal affairs,” said a letter read by Libyan government spokesman Musa Ibrahim. The letter also said the government would never fire “a single bullet” against its citizens. Gadhafi’s government continued to blame the conflict in Libya on al Qaeda.

[6:05 a.m. ET Saturday, 1:05 p.m. in Libya] A CNN team saw tanks belonging to forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi enter Benghazi on Saturday, and observed rebel tanks moving to confront them. Tank, mortar and artillery fire echoed across the city, interspersed with sustained bursts of small arms fire. Plumes of smoke could been seen rising above Benghazi.

[4:35 a.m. ET Saturday, 11:35 a.m. in Libya] CNN journalists observed tanks moving north from 5 kilometers south of Benghazi and other tanks moving through the western part of the city. It is not known which side the tanks belonged to. The journalists also saw tank and artillery rounds land inside the city.

[3:56 a.m. ET Saturday, 10:56 a.m. in Libya] A fighter jet was shot down and burst into flames Saturday in the area of Benghazi. Meanwhile, explosions could be heard in the city, which has been a stronghold for rebels opposing Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. It was not immediately clear who the fighter jet belonged to. Rebels have vowed to defend Benghazi to the death.

On Friday, the Libyan government said it was abiding by a cease-fire, but witnesses have said violence from pro-Gadhafi forces has continued.

[12:23 a.m. ET Saturday, 7:23 a.m. in Libya] Agence France-Presse reported airstrikes and explosions Saturday morning in an area southwest of Benghazi. CNN had not independently confirmed the report.

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