Faced with heavy aerial bombardment backed by relentless cruise missile attacks from the sea, Libyan strongman Muammar Qadhafi has threatened to retaliate with a people's war, which would engulf countries across the Mediterranean.
Shortly after Sunday's early morning bombardment on regime targets, in which several European countries and the United States participated, Colonel Qadhafi vowed, in an audio message, to take the fight into Europe.
“The Mediterranean region has become a real battlefield,” he said.
“Arms depots have been opened and all the Libyan people are being armed,” Col. Qadhafi asserted, signalling his readiness to launch an armed guerrilla rebellion against the Western forces.
Later, evoking the medieval imagery of the Crusades, Col. Qadhafi threatened to begin an “endless war” against the “Christian” enemy, which included among others, France, the United States, and Britain. “There is no justification for this cold war against Islam,” he said.
Col. Qadhafi's assertion over the air waves followed massive attacks which began late on Saturday by fighter jets, bombers, warships and submarines, which had been rushed into the Mediterranean ahead of the attacks. With government forces closing in on Benghazi, the opposition's nerve centre, French aircraft on Saturday had taken off for attacks, even before a meeting being held in Paris, on possible military steps to enforce a U.N.-sanctioned no-fly zone over Libya, had concluded.
The United States unleashed a cruise missile barrage from three submarines that were part of a task force in the Mediterranean which also included two warships. Fourteen other ships —11 from Italy, and one each from Britain, Canada and France — are part of an armada that has been positioned to enforce the U.N. Security Council resolution, which has authorised the use of air power, to prevent attacks on civilians by Col. Qadhafi's forces.
On Sunday morning, the regime's tanks outside Benghazi had been attacked from the air, and the assault on the city by pro-Qadhafi loyalists, which began on Friday, had been stalled. Libyan authorities claimed that 48 civilians had been killed and 150 wounded during the overnight strikes.
Ahead of the aerial bombardment, at least 94 people had been killed during the regime attack on Benghazi, doctors at the city's Jala hospital said. Human Rights Watch says that since the Libyan uprising began it had documented cases of government forces shooting peaceful protesters, making arbitrary arrests, and undertaking enforced disappearances.
While supporting the opposition's cause, Iran on Sunday cautioned Libyans to be wary of the real purpose of the Western military intervention. “These [Western] countries enter usually with seductive slogans of supporting the people but they follow their own interests in ruling the countries and continuing colonialism in a new form,” said Ramin Mehmanparast, a Foreign Ministry spokesman.
However Turkey, whose stature in West Asia has recently grown, said it was ready to support the enforcement of the U.N. resolution. With criticism mounting that Arab countries had chosen to be sidelined by the Western powers, Qatar's Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani told Al Jazeera that his country would certainly “participate in military action” over Libya.
The aerial attacks, meant to degrade the regime's capacity to counterattack the overflying planes with ground-based missiles and fighter jets, targeted 20 air-defence sites, including radar stations and communications centres in Tripoli and Misrata, Libya's opposition-held third largest city.
By mid-day on Sunday, the U.S. announced that dominance over Libyan skies had been fully achieved.