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UN authorizes no-fly zone in Libya

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UN authorizes no-fly zone in Libya

  • Benghazi residents react to the news that the UN voted to impose a no-fly zone.
    GlobalPost screengrabBenghazi residents react to the news that the UN voted to impose a no-fly zone.

BENGHAZI, Libya — The UN Security Council voted to impose a no-fly zone over Libya Thursday hours before forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi were expected to storm this city, the last-standing rebel stronghold in the country. The resolution also approved other military measures needed to protect Libyan civilians.

Residents of Benghazi gathered at the main square of the city, known as Revolutionary Square, erupted in celebration in the early morning hours Friday after hearing the news of the UN vote.

Earlier Thursday, spontaneous celebrations followed anti-aircraft fire after rebel forces downed two planes loyal to Libyan leader Gaddafi. But the joy was muted by a growing sense here that help from the international community would come too late.

Local residents reported seeing and hearing Gaddafi planes flying low overhead. But they appeared to be more a show of force. No bombs were dropped directly on the city — yet.

The highways on the outskirts of Benghazi were clogged with locals in the afternoon who were looking for signs of the downed planes. After hours and many false turns, residents eventually found the ruined remains of the jet fighter.

As the day wore on, many of the people of Benghazi began to give up hope that the international community would initiate a no fly zone — one of the last chances they felt they had to repel Gaddafi's brutal counter-assault.

"Obama is no good," said a local cafe worker. "We think he's friends with Gaddafi. All the people now don't like the president. Even my mom was talking about him."

Another resident said, "Why doesn't Obama help the Libyan people? We're good people and we don't have any guns."

Such views are likely to change now that the UN, under pressure from the United States, voted to intervene.

Rebel soldiers blocked the road to the airport in Benghazi, which Reuters reported had been bombed by Gaddafi forces. The rebel guards said the area was too dangerous because of an unexploded ordinance.

The streets of Benghazi now look like the streets of Baghdad, broken down and strewn with uncollected trash.

"We're still counting on the international community," said Adul Khafiz Ghoga, the head spokesman for the opposition.

Without an effective no-fly zone, the rebels have instead focused on recruiting Gaddafi's own pilots.

"Some pilots joined the opposition 10 days to a week ago," said Shukari Tarabolsi, an accountant from Benghazi. "It's a godsend. Gaddafi sent two aircrafts to bomb Benghazi and they landed in Benghazi instead and surrendered. Two of Gaddafi's aircraft also reportedly landed in Malta."

Meanwhile, rebels in Ajdabiya, 100 miles south of here, have managed to maintain some control of the town after three days of heavy fighting.

The assault on the city of close to 150,000 began with an aerial bombardment on Tuesday morning, followed by rockets from ships offshore, said Salem Elzway, 27, a resident of Ajdabiya and eyewitness to much of the fighting.

The pro-Gaddafi rocket attacks on Ajdabiya continued Thursday afternoon.

"They hit my aunt's house, destroyed the roof and garage," Elzway said.

In a surprising development, rebel MiG-23 jets then sank the two ships, which was reported by a Libyan rebel website.

Tanks entered his neighborhood from the west and hit several houses before Ajdabiya's rebel forces counterattacked with rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire. Elzway said five Gaddafi soldiers were killed and one rebel from Benghazi died in the fighting.

Rebels drove the Gaddafi forces to the outskirts of Ajdabiya. Gaddafi forces then set up blocking positions around the town, placing tanks to the east and west of the city. Residents were initially not allowed to leave. Then they were told to leave quickly and many fled, Elzway said.

The shelling of Ajdabiya continued through Tuesday night — 35 rebels and civilians were killed, according to local reports.

"The most beautiful thing Gaddafi has done in 40 years is sent many of us to heaven," said Elzway. "We all believe in Islam that everyone who dies in tragedy like that goes to heaven." He said peoples of all levels from doctors and engineers have joined the fight.

This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

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