As airstrikes intensify, Libyan appeals for no-fly zone grow

Benghazi–As the Libyan uprising completes its third week, authorities in the rebel-held East have renewed their call for an internationally coordinated no-fly zone to protect Libyans from intensifying air assaults by pro-Qadhafi forces.    

Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Hafiz Ghoga, the deputy head of the Provisional National Council (PNC), welcomed the imposition of a no-fly zone and insisted that the Libyan people need it.

 “We have asked the United Nations to impose a no-fly zone. That is the least they can do to stop the carnage and protect Libyan cities,” said Gogha.

Council leaders have consistently rebuffed any attempts at foreign intervention in Libyan affairs, a position echoed by many protesters and armed rebels. But as the Libyan situation deteriorates, many Libyans are calling for more action on the part of the international community. It requests, however, that it stops short of sending foreign ground troops into Libyan territory–a scenario that no foreign government or international body has seriously proposed.

Asked about reports of a classified US request to Saudi Arabia to furnish combat weapons to Libyan rebels, Ghoga retorted vaguely that “we have only heard about this offer through the press like everyone else.” Speaking to journalists outside the building, Gogha was careful to distinguish between foreign assistance and intervention. He suggested that the transfer of military weapons to Libya’s rebels from other states would not constitute the kind of foreign meddling to which Libyans are opposed.

The PNC made a request to the United Nations last week for a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent airstrikes by pro-Qadhafi forces. While the request has not been formally granted, Britain and France have supported a draft UN Security Council resolution to authorize a no-fly zone in the event of an escalation by Qadhafi, though the proposal may not survive a Chinese and Russian veto.

For the past two days, pro-Qadhafi forces have intensified airstrikes against rebels in the eastern towns of Ben Jawwad and Ras Lanuf. While the strikes have caused few deaths, they have slowed the rebels’ westward advance and–according to reports–have caused many injuries.   

Meanwhile, a squadron of NATO surveillance aircraft has launched a round-the-clock monitoring of Libyan airspace, a possible precursor to a more sustained aerial presence.

US President Barack Obama said earlier this week that the United States would not rule out any military options in Libya. American military officials, however, have expressed reservations over a US-imposed no-fly zone, which would necessitate an initial attack to destroy Libya’s weak but functional air defense systems on the ground. Meanwhile, high-profile US politicians, such as Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman, with track records of supporting US military adventures abroad, have been some of the loudest advocates in the United States of intervention in Libya.

The no-fly zone issue has stirred an international debate about the merits and dangers of military intervention, with opponents questioning the motives of foreign powers that are pushing for urgent action on humanitarian grounds. Richard Falk, a well-known international legal scholar, wrote on Monday that imposing a no-fly zone would have little basis in international law and could very well fail to achieve the stated goal of greater protection for Libya’s civilian population.

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