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Saturday, 12 March 2011

The Arab League endorsed a no-flight zone over Libya

The Arab League endorsed a no-flight zone over Libya in an
effort to end the bloody three-week conflict there.

The foreign minister of Oman, Youssef bin Alawi bin
Abdullah, said that Arab leaders meeting in Cairo had voted unanimously to ask
the United Nations Security Council to impose a no-flight zone over Libya.

“What is happening now to the Libyan people poses a threat
to the security and stability of Arab states,” Mr bin Abdullah said before the

“If the Arab League does not take responsibility to prevent
a downward spiral that could lead to internal fighting or unwanted foreign

In Libya on Saturday, forces loyal to Col. Muammar
el-Qaddafi pushed Libyan rebels eastward, and strengthened their hold around
Tripoli, the capital.

In Benghazi, the centre of rebel power in eastern Libya, the
deputy leader of the opposition’s shadow government pleaded with international
officials to impose a no-flight zone in order to give his fighters a chance to
reverse the losses of the past few days.

“If the international community chooses to play the role of
bystander,” said the official, Abdul Hafidh Ghoga, the vice chairman of the
shadow government, the Libyan National Council, “we will have to defend

The Libyan government’s steady and deadly use of air power
to punish rebel forces over the past week has increased the pressure to reach a
decision on whether to use military force to enforce a no-flight zone, and the
debate in Cairo on Saturday was tense.

A number of countries, including Syria, Lebanon, Algeria,
Sudan and Morocco, opposed the move, arguing that foreign intervention would
destabilize the region. But the vote on Saturday was unanimous, the Omani
foreign minister said.

The League’s endorsement is seen as vital as the Western
powers debate whether to intervene militarily.

The Obama administration has said that it was considering
the option, but top officials have warned about the potential dangers of
American military involvement, unless it was authorized by the United Nations
and neighbouring countries joined in the effort.

Privately, administration officials have said the situation
in Libya would have to get much worse to justify risking the lives of American
military pilots.

Now that Arab countries have supported the move, the next
step is expected to be at the United Nations Security Council, where Britain
and France have been working on a draft resolution that has faced opposition
from China and Russia.

Reacting to the Arab League decision, a Council diplomat
said, “It will be helpful, but there are quite a lot of reservations around the
Council table still.”

The main criteria that have held the resolution up have been
demonstrating the need for a no-flight zone, obtaining clear regional support
for it, as well as a strong legal basis.

The Arab League action takes care of one of the conditions,
the diplomat said, but the others remain unsettled.

NATO has said that regional support for such a move would be
important, and the European Union has made it clear that it would prefer to see
the Arab states back such a step before it takes action.

The United States has said a no-flight zone is an option but
has argued that the United Nations Security Council will have to approve it,

Scores of Libyan supporters of the rebels gathered outside
the Arab League headquarters in Cairo on Saturday urging support for the
no-flight zone and for recognition of the Libyan National Council, the rebels’
shadow government. A huge portrait of Mr Qaddafi was hung outside with the
caption “Murderer, terrorist, dictator.”

“We want Qaddafi and his sons to be put on trial,” said one
of the protesters, Anwar Mustafa, 38, a graduate student in education.

Syria’s ambassador to the league, Youssef Ahmed, read a
statement rejecting foreign intervention, saying Arab states should oppose any
step that “violates the sovereignty, independence and unity of Libyan

The Arab League refused to seat Colonel Qaddafi’s ambassador
for the meeting but also did not recognize the rebels, through the National
Council, in his stead. Rather, the league was planning to open a discussion
with the rebels without recognizing the council as the legitimate government,
partly because it was unclear which side would be victorious.

Colonel Qaddafi’s forces retook oil installations near Ras
Lanuf, about 400 miles to the east. The rebels seized Ras Lanuf a week ago, but
witnesses said Saturday that the main body of pro-Qaddafi forces had pushed
opposition fighters well past the refinery checkpoints on the east side of the

The rebel defeat in Ras Lanuf moved the front line toward
the town of Uqaylah. Government forces also launched an attack on Saturday on
the town of Misurata, the last rebel holdout in the western part of the

“I think they are five kilometres from the town now; I can
hear loud explosions,” Reuters quoted a rebel spokesman named Gemal as saying.

Ethan Bronner reported from Cairo, and Kareem Fahim from
Benghazi, Libya. Neil MacFarquhar contributed reporting from Cairo.

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