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LIBYA: Arab League head backs off after criticizing airstrikes

March 21, 2011 |  6:55 am

Picture 5 Arab League head Amr Moussa has qualified comments he made criticizing the reported civilian toll from Western airstrikes in Libya, telling reporters in Cairo on Monday that the Arab League and the U.N. Security Council are "united" on the need to protect civilians.

"[The Arab League] respects the U.N. Security Council resolution, and there is no contradiction," Moussa said.

"We will continue working to protect civilians, and we will ask everybody to take this into consideration in any military operation," he added."We have received assurances that these issues, especially the protection of civilians, will remain a unanimous goal for the U.N. and the Arab League."

A coalition force including France, Britain and the U.S. continued strikes against Libyan military targets on Sunday night and Monday morning, demolishing a building in a compound belonging to Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi. Coalition military officials claim the building was a military command center.

The bombardment campaign is intended to impose a no-fly zone over northern Libya and stop Kadafi's advance on rebel-held territories. The rebel-held city of Misurata appears to be under ongoing attack from pro-Kadafi forces, while Reuters reported sporadic explosions in and around Benghazi, the stronghold of the rebellion.

The BBC reported that a Libyan official claimed 64 people were killed in the weekend raids, but the network could not verify that number.

Approving Western-led military intervention in an Arab country has presented a new set of challenges for Arab leaders, some of whom are already facing a crisis of legitimacy at home. While voicing support for military assistance to the rebels in Libya, the Gulf Cooperation Council sent security forces from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates into Bahrain last week to suppress an anti-government uprising.

The head of the council on Monday reiterated the body's support for the strikes, affirming participation by Qatar and the United Arab Emirates in the multi-national force, but he echoed Moussa's comment that the aim of the bombing was to save civilian lives.

"What is happening now is not an intervention," said Abdul Rahman bin Hamad al Attiyah, according to the Associated Press. "It is about protecting the people from bloodshed." 

Al Attiyah did not say whether Qatar and the UAE would be taking a direct role in the bombing campaign or would limit their role to provide logistical support.

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Photo: A screen shot of Arab League head Amr Moussa. Credit: Meris Lutz

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