The U.N.-mandated intervention to protect civilians caught up in a one-month-old revolt against Gaddafi drew criticism from Arab League chief Amr Moussa, who questioned the need for a heavy bombardment, which he said had killed many civilians.
But the United States, carrying out the air strikes in a coalition with Britain, France, Italy and Canada among others, said the campaign was working and dismissed a ceasefire announcement by the Libyan military on Sunday evening.
Britain’s Defence Ministry said one of its submarines had again fired Tomahawk guided missiles on Sunday night as part of a second wave of attacks to enforce the U.N. resolution.
“We and our international partners are continuing operations in support of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973,” a ministry spokesman said.
Italy said it also had warplanes in the air, after U.S. and British warships and submarines launched 110 Tomahawk missiles on Saturday night and Sunday morning.
Vice Admiral Bill Gortney, director of the U.S. military’s Joint Staff, told reporters there had been no new Libyan air activity or radar emissions, but a significant decrease in Libyan air surveillance, since strikes began Saturday.
Benghazi was not yet free from threat, said Gortney, but Gaddafi’s forces in the area were in distress and “suffering from isolation and confusion” after the air assaults.
Late on Sunday night, Libyan officials took Western reporters to Gaddafi’s compound in Tripoli, a sprawling complex that houses his private quarters as well as military barracks, anti-aircraft batteries and other installations, to see what they said was the site of a missile attack two hours earlier.
“It was a barbaric bombing,” said government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim, showing pieces of shrapnel that he said came from the missile. “This contradicts American and Western (statements) … that it is not their target to attack this place.”
A Libyan military spokesman announced a new ceasefire on Sunday, saying that “the Libyan armed forces … have issued a command to all military units to safeguard an immediate ceasefire from 9 p.m. (1900 GMT) this evening”.
Both before and after he spoke, heavy anti-aircraft gunfire boomed above central Tripoli.
Outside Benghazi, smouldering, shattered tanks and troop carriers from what had been Gaddafi’s advancing forces littered the main road. The charred bodies of at least 14 government soldiers lay scattered in the desert.
But with Gaddafi having vowed to fight to the death, there were fears his troops might try to force their way into cities, seeking shelter from air attacks among the civilian population.
In central Benghazi, sporadic explosions and heavy exchanges of gunfire could be heard in the streets late on Sunday evening. A Reuters witness said the firing lasted about 40 minutes.
In Misrata, the last rebel-held city in western Libya, government tanks moved in after a base used by Gaddafi’s forces outside was hit by air strikes on Saturday, residents said.
“There is fighting between the rebels and Gaddafi’s forces. Their tanks are in the centre of Misrata … There are so many casualties we cannot count them,” Abdelbasset, a spokesman for the rebels in Misrata, told Reuters on Sunday afternoon.
A Libyan government health official said 64 people had been killed by Western bombardment on Saturday and Sunday morning, but it was impossible to independently verify the report.
Libyan state television showed footage from an unidentified hospital of what it called victims of the “colonial enemy”. Ten bodies were wrapped in white and blue bed sheets, and several people were wounded, one of them badly, the television said.
Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa called for an emergency meeting of the group’s 22 states to discuss Libya. He requested a report on the bombardment, which he said had “led to the deaths and injuries of many Libyan civilians”.
“What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians,” Egypt’s state news agency quoted him as saying.
There was no immediate public backing for his call from any government in the region, however.
Arab support for a no-fly zone provided crucial underpinning for the passage of a U.N. Security Council resolution last week that paved the way for Western action to stop Gaddafi killing civilians as he fights an uprising against his 41-year rule.
U.S. President Barack Obama spoke to Jordan’s King Abdullah, while Vice President Joe Biden phoned leaders in Algeria and Kuwait to shore up Arab support.
The intervention is the biggest against an Arab country since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Withdrawal of Arab support would make it much harder to pursue what some defence analysts say could in any case be a difficult, open-ended campaign with an uncertain outcome. Reuters