TRIPOLI, Libya – Libya declared an immediate cease-fire and promised to stop military operations Friday in a bid to fend off international military intervention after the U.N. authorized a no-fly zone and “all necessary measures” to prevent the regime from striking its own people.
The announcement by Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa followed a fierce attack by Gadhafi’s forces against Misrata, the last rebel-held city in the western half of the country. A doctor said at least six people were killed.
The U.N. Security Council resolution, which was passed late Thursday after weeks of deliberation, set the stage for airstrikes, a no-fly zone and other military measures short of a ground invasion. Britain announced that it would send fighter jets and France was making plans to deploy planes, but the U.S. had yet to announce what its role would be. NATO also held an emergency meeting.
With the international community mobilizing, Koussa said the government would cease fire in line with the resolution, although he criticized the authorization of international military action, calling it a violation of Libya’s sovereignty.
“The government is opening channels for true, serious dialogue with all parties,” he said during a news conference in Tripoli, the capital.
The attack on Misrata, Libya’s third-largest city, came as the rebels were on the defensive in their eastern stronghold after Gadhafi vowed to launch a final assault and crush the nearly 5-week-old rebellion against him.
The opposition expressed hope the U.N. resolution would help turn the tide in their favor after days of fierce fighting.
“We think Gadhafi’s forces will not advance against us. Our morale is very high now. I think we have the upper hand,” Col. Salah Osman, a former army officer who defected to the rebel side, said. He was speaking at a checkpoint near the eastern town of Sultan.
The Western powers faced pressure to act urgently after weeks spent deliberation over what to do about Gadhafi as his regime gained momentum. The U.S. has positioned a host of forces and ships in the region, including submarines and destroyers and amphibious assault and landing ships with some 400 Marines aboard. It also could provide a range of surveillance assets.
In an interview with Portuguese television broadcast just before the U.N. vote, Gadhafi pledged to respond harshly to U.N.-sponsored attacks. “If the world is crazy,” he said, “we will be crazy, too.”