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Gahafi’s Troops Advance on Rebel-Held Cities as U.N. OKs No-Fly Zone

March 17, 2011 at 6:49 PM EDT
Forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi on Thursday surrounded Ajdabiya, a key rebel-held city, as they continued heavy shelling that killed at least 30 people. Gadhafi's warplanes also began air attacks on Benghazi as the United Nations Security Council voted to approve a no-fly zone over Libya. Ray Suarez reports.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Troops loyal to Moammar Gadhafi surrounded a key town in eastern Libya today, as the United Nations Security Council moved toward possible action.

Ray Suarez has that story.

RAY SUAREZ: Artillery shells rained down on Ajdabiya today in a heavy, sustained attack that left 30 dead and at least 80 wounded, according to local hospitals.

The attack left the town badly damaged. It’s now surrounded by pro-Gadhafi forces. Ajdabiya was seen as the gateway to an expected assault on the rebels’ de facto capital, Benghazi, just 100 miles to the north. Gadhafi’s warplanes have already launched airstrikes near Benghazi. The rebels have claimed they’ve shot down two of the government planes and launched their own air raids.

Pro-Gadhafi forces were also said to be preparing new attacks on Misrata, 130 miles from the Libyan capital, Tripoli, and the rebels’ last stronghold in the west.

Gadhafi’s rapid advance reverberated in Washington, where top U.S. officials stepped up calls for action.

WILLIAM BURNS, U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs: Part of our national interest is avoiding a humanitarian catastrophe in Libya. That’s not something that’s shared only by the United States. That’s why there needs to be an international response, with active Arab participation.

(GUNSHOTS)

RAY SUAREZ: After days of hesitation about establishing a no-fly zone, U.S. officials are now talking about an effort on land, sea and air to protect Libyan civilians.

And the U.N. Security Council debated that and other proposals today, as France, Britain and the U.S. pressed for a decision.