After weeks of discussion, the U.N. Security Council late Thursday banned flights in Libya's airspace and authorized "all necessary means" to implement the ban

Within hours of the imposition of a no-fly zone authorised by the United Nations Security Council, the Libyan regime of Muammar Qadhafi has announced a unilateral ceasefire, and has backed it up with a call for a visit by an international fact-finding mission to Tripoli.

“Libya has decided an immediate ceasefire and stoppage of all military operations,” Libyan Foreign Minister Mousa Koussa told media in Tripoli. Declining to take questions, the Minister said as a U.N. member, Libya had accepted the Security Council resolution. He added that his country would encourage the “opening of all dialogue channels” with the international community.

However, he criticised as “unreasonable” the resolution's provision of allowing the use of military power, as, in his view, it violated Libya's sovereignty as well as the U.N. charter.

Analysts say in case the Qadhafi regime verifiably halts military attacks on civilians, it could undermine the basis for launching international air strikes against the regime, as authorised by the Security Council on Thursday. However, if the government does not use force, it could open the door for peaceful protests by anti-Qadhafi forces, which are seeking regime change and democracy in Libya.

Earlier on Friday, forces loyal to Mr. Qadhafi had launched an all-out attack to regain opposition-held Misrata, Libya's third largest city, soon after the U.N. resolution had been passed.

Reuters news agency quoted an anti-Qadhafi figure, Saadoun as saying: “There have been heavy bombardments since 7 o'clock this morning.

They are bombing everything, the houses, the center of the city,” By holding on to Misrata, the dissidents can threaten the regime in Tripoli to the West, as well as well as Sirte, Mr. Qadhafi's home base to the east.

Ahead of the imposition of the U.N. resolution, which has an open-ended provision of allowing aerial attacks on Libyan forces, capable of attacking civilians, Mr. Qadhafi threatened to harm maritime and air traffic in the Mediterranean zone.

Revealing some details about how the U.N. resolution could be implemented, Senator Lindsay Graham of the United States told the Cable on the Foreign Policy website that the imposition of a no-fly zone could begin by grounding “his [ the Libyan regime's] aircraft, and some tanks start getting blown up that are headed toward the opposition forces”.

Another Senator, Mark Kirk told the media that he anticipated military operations would be run from Sicily, where a NATO base and a U.S. naval air station are located.

As preparations get under way for an aerial assault, Egypt appears to be emerging as a rear support base for the opposition.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Egypt has already started sending weapons to the opposition forces, following Washington's approval.

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