A meeting of world leaders in Paris could lead to military action in Libya on Saturday. Fighting continues in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, despite the Libyan government's claim that a ceasefire is in place.
Libyan rebels anticipate the UN's next move
Leaders from the European Union, the United Nations, the African Union and the Arab League are gathering in Paris on Saturday for a critical meeting to decide how to implement the UN Security Council resolution authorizing military action in Libya.
A senior French envoy predicted strikes against the Libyan leader could start within hours of the summit.
The meeting comes as forces loyal to Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi continued to bomb the rebel stronghold of Benghazi on Saturday morning. Jets were seen in the air in defiance of the UN-authorized no-fly zone, while Gadhafi's forces reportedly pushed into Benghazi, defying world demands for an immediate ceasefire and forcing rebels to retreat.
Fighting raged around Benghazi on Saturday, with air strikes, shelling and anti-aircraft fire rocking the Mediterranean city as a rebel warplane went down in flames.
A rebel warplane was apparently shot down over the outskirts of Benghazi
Tank fire was also heard from the south of the city as rebel fighters ran through the streets flashing V for victory signs and shouting "Allahu Akbar," or "God is greatest."
But the Libyan government continued to defy the international community, and said there were "no attacks whatsoever on Benghazi" and implied the rebels were trying to provoke international intervention.
A Libyan government spokesman, reading Gadhafi's statements on Saturday, said the UN Security Council is not authorized to impose a no-fly zone over the country, and described the resolution as being "injustice and clear aggression."
"I have all the Libyan people supporting me and they are prepared to die for me," Gadhafi said in letters addressed to US President Barack Obama and other world leaders. "I am facing al-Qaeda here."
Fighting has also continued in Misrata, where rebels said on Saturday they had beaten back an onslaught by Gadhafi's forces, destroying heavy armor but suffering 27 casualties.
A rebel spokesman reached by telephone said the city, 210 kilometers (130 miles) east of the capital, was calm on Saturday after fierce fighting the previous day in which loyalists forces penetrated the centre before being forced out again.
"Twenty-seven rebel fighters were killed," the spokesman told news agency AFP. "We destroyed 14 armoured vehicles, including tanks."
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are among those scheduled to attend the Paris summit.
The participants at the meeting will also weigh Friday's claim by the Libyan government that it had declared a ceasefire and put an end to all military operations against rebel forces.
France's ambassador to the United Nations, Gerard Araud, said late Friday he expected foreign military intervention in Libya within hours of the Paris summit.
In a letter sent to France, Britain, and the United Nations, a spokesman for Gadhafi quoted the Libyan leader as saying "you will regret it" if the international community interferes in Libyan affairs.
In an interview published Saturday, UN chief Ban Ki-moon said Gadhafi has "lost all legitimacy" and must step down. "He cannot stay in power in Libya. Whatever happens, he has to go," he told the Spanish daily El Mundo.
Weighing military involvement
Germany fears an extended engagement for its troops if they fly above Libya
US President Barack Obama made it clear that the US would not send in ground troops but left little doubt that Washington was committed to enforcing the UN resolution.
"These terms are not subject to negotiation," Obama said. "If Gadhafi does not comply with the resolution, the international community will impose consequences. The resolution will be enforced through military action."
Germany has also made it clear that it would not be sending any troops to Libya. In Thursday's UN Security Council vote to pass the no-fly zone resolution, Germany joined Russia, China, India and Brazil in abstaining from the vote.
But increasing German troop presence in Afghanistan in order to free up NATO forces to be shifted to Libya remains an option for Germany.
Author: Matt Zuvela, Ben Knight (Reuters, AFP, DPA)
Editor: Sean Sinico