Hours after the strikes began, a defiant Mr. Qadhafi vowed to open the stores and arm civilians to defend Libya from what he called "colonial, Crusader" aggression by Western forces.

The U.S.-led military coalition today hit Libyan defence targets with cruise missiles and launched air attacks as Muammar Qaddafi vowed to open his arms depots to the people to retaliate against the Western “aggression”.

French jets fired the first shots in Operation Odyssey Dawn, the biggest international military intervention in the Arab world since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, destroying tanks and armoured vehicles in eastern Libya, Al-Jazeera reported.

They were joined by the U.S. and the U.K. who fired over 110 Tomahawk missiles from American and British ships and submarines, hitting about 20 Libyan air and missile defence targets in the capital Tripoli and along the Mediterranean coast, U.S. Navy Vice Adm William Gortney said at a Pentagon briefing.

The aircraft pounded areas in close proximity to the headquarters of Mr. Qadhafi in Tripoli early today as eyewitnesses said a jet flew over the Bab al-Azizia military compound, situated in the southern suburbs of Tripoli.

Al-Jazeera quoted an unnamed U.S. military officials as saying that “Mr. Qadhafi’s air defence systems have been severely disabled. It’s too soon to predict what he and his ground forces may do in response to today’s strikes.”

However, Libyan state television reported that 48 civilian were killed and 150 wounded as a result of this “aggression”. The channel said most of the casualties were children but gave no more details.

Hours after the strikes began, a defiant Mr. Qadhafi vowed to open the stores and arm civilians to defend Libya from what he called “colonial, Crusader” aggression by Western forces.

“It is now necessary to open the stores and arm all the masses with all types of weapons to defend the independence, unity and honour of Libya,” Mr. Qadhafi said in a brief audio message broadcast on state television early today.

“The interests of countries face danger from now on in the Mediterranean because of this aggressive and mad behaviour,” he said.

The air strikes was launched yesterday after officials of a number of countries meeting in Paris ordered a large- scale military intervention into Libya in order to end the assaults on civilians launched by Mr. Qadhafi’s forces.

Spain, Norway, and Denmark have also announced that they are joining the large-scale military intervention into Libya, the Press TV reported.

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