Paris, March 21 (IANS) Qatar has decided to participate in the military offensive by international forces against Libya, a French defence ministry spokesman said.
Speaking at a press conference Sunday, Laurent Teissiere described Qatar’s decision to deploy four warplanes as a “crucial point”, saying that “this illustrated Arabic participation into this operation”, Xinhua reported.
A coalition of American, British and French forces bombed by air and from the sea key targets in Libya in aid of rebels holding Benghazi, the country’s second largest city.
French jets launched the attack — named Operation Odyssey Dawn — Saturday, hitting government tanks and armoured vehicles on the road to Benghazi.
The French were joined by US and British ships which fired more than 100 Tomahawk cruise missiles at installations and key assets.
Over 15 French planes joined in air strikes over Libya Sunday, including air-to-air and air-to-ground actions, said Thierry Burkhard, spokesman of French general staff sitting next to Teissiere at the conference.
They said there was no threat to civilian population and called Saturday’s operation “effective”.
However, at least 64 people were reported to have been killed and 150 others wounded following the joint operation.
Libya has been rocked by anti-government protests since Feb 14. Protesters are demanding the ouster of Gaddafi, who has ruled the country for about 42 years. According to one estimate, over 6,000 people have died in the clashes.
The airstrikes and casualties led to chorus of protests from Russia, China and India, with Moscow demanding an immediate dailogue to end the “bloodshed”.
The coordinated air raids on Libya have also drawn criticism from the Arab League, Xinhua said.
“What has happened in Libya differs from the goal of imposing a no-fly zone and what we want is the protection of civilians and not bombing other civilians,” Chief of Arab League Amr Moussa said Sunday.
Meanwhile, US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen said that a UN-backed no-fly zone in Libya is “effectively in place”.
Air attacks by coalition forces have taken out most of Libya’s air defence systems and some airfields, Mullen said in interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” programme.
“I would say the no-fly zone is effectively in place,” Mullen told CNN.