TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Monday a U.N. resolution authorising military action in Libya resembled “mediaeval calls for crusades” after Western forces launched a second wave of air strikes.
As diplomatic tempers over the campaign flared, officials in Tripoli said a missile intended to kill Muammar Gaddafi had destroyed a building in his fortified compound, which was heavily bombed in 1986 by the Reagan administration.
“It was a barbaric bombing,” said government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim, showing pieces of shrapnel that he said came from the missile. “This contradicts American and Western (statements) ... that it is not their target to attack this place.”
There was no comment on the strike from attacking forces.
In an appearance on Libyan television on Sunday, Gaddafi promised his enemies a “long war” after the U.N.-authorised intervention in the uprising against his 41-year rule of this oil producing north African desert state.
“The resolution is defective and flawed,” said Russia’s Putin, whose country did not use its power to veto the resolution at the United Nations. “It allows everything. It resembles mediaeval calls for crusades,” Putin added.
China’s official newspapers on Monday stepped up Beijing’s opposition to air attacks on Libya, accusing nations backing the strikes of breaking international rules and courting new turmoil in the Middle East. China also did not veto the U.N. resolution.
Libyan rebels welcomed the second wave of attacks.
“The committee rejects foreign troops on the ground but we encourage the bombardment of Gaddafi’s army,” Ahmed El-Hasi, a spokesman for the February 17 opposition coalition, said in the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi where the uprising began.
He said rebels coordinated with international powers on air strikes. “There is a connection between us. One, to pinpoint the position of Gaddafi’s troops, and two, to pinpoint the position of our fighters so they don’t get hit with bombardments.”
Accounts from the rebel-held western city of Mistrata appeared to show Gaddafi forces, in a change of tactics forced on them by air attacks, were trying to mingle with the civilian population, making it hard to target them from the air. Rebels said women and children were being used as “human shields”.
“EAT US ALIVE”
The first strikes on Saturday halted the advance of Gaddafi forces on Benghazi and targeted Libya’s air defences in order to let Western warplanes patrol the skies of Libya.
The second wave of Western air strikes also hit Gaddafi’s troops around Ajdabiyah, a strategic town in the barren, scrub of east Libya that rebels aim to retake and where their fighters said they need more help to take the battle to the enemy.
“If we don’t get more help from the West, Gaddafi’s forces will eat us alive,” rebel fighter Nouh Musmari told Reuters.
The U.N.-mandated intervention to protect civilians caught up in a one-month-old revolt against Gaddafi also drew criticism from Arab League chief Amr Moussa, who questioned the need for a heavy bombardment, which he said had killed many civilians.
Moussa said on Monday however that the League respected the U.N. resolution while stressing the need to protect civilians.
The United States, carrying out the air strikes in a coalition with Britain, France, Italy and Canada among others, said the campaign was working and dismissed a ceasefire announcement by the Libyan military on Sunday evening.
Henri Guaino, one of French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s closest aides, said strikes were not aimed at ousting Gaddafi but said they were likely to last “a little while”.
Underlining its commitment to avoiding civilian casualties, Britain’s Defence Ministry said one air force mission was called off because of civilians in the target area.
“As the RAF GR4 Tornados approached the target, further information came to light ... As a result the decision was taken not to launch weapons,” a ministry spokesman said.
The intervention in Libya is the biggest in an Arab country since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Withdrawal of Arab support would make it harder to pursue what some analysts say could in any case be an open-ended campaign with an uncertain outcome.
Italy said it had warplanes in the air, after U.S. and British warships and submarines launched 110 Tomahawk missiles on Saturday night and Sunday morning.
Late on Sunday night, Libyan officials took Western reporters to Gaddafi’s compound in Tripoli, a sprawling complex that houses his private quarters as well as military barracks, anti-aircraft batteries and other installations, to see what they said was the site of a missile attack two hours earlier.
A short walk from a brightly lit tent where Gaddafi receives his guests, the three-storey building stood in ruins, and a circular hole was visible on its gutted facade. The United States says it does not have Gaddafi on its target list.
The wrecked building was close to a house in the compound which was attacked by the Reagan administration and which was never rebuilt. Outside in a symbol of defiance, a giant golden fist crumples a model of a U.S. warplane.
With Gaddafi having vowed to fight to the death, there were fears his troops might increasingly try to force their way into cities, seeking shelter from air attacks among civilians.
In Misrata, a rebel spokesman said pro-Gaddafi forces had killed seven people there on Sunday. Residents said water supplies were cut off and Libyan troops had encircled the city.
“The Gaddafi forces are forcing people from Zawiyah, al Mahjoub and Al Ghiran out of their houses and giving them Gaddafi’s pictures and the (official Libyan) green flag to chant for Gaddafi,” Hassan, a rebel spokesman, told Reuters.
“They are bringing them to Misrata so they can enter the city and control it by using the civilians as human shields because they know we are not going to shoot woman and children and old people,” he said by telephone from Misrata.
The U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, said the no-fly zone was now in place.
But Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the United States would not have a “pre-eminent role” in maintaining it, and expected to turn over “primary responsibility” within days, perhaps to Britain or France.
U.S. officials, eager to avoid similarities to the invasion of Iraq and the toppling of Saddam Hussein, have been playing down Washington’s role and emphasising that overthrowing or killing Gaddafi is not the goal of the attacks on Libya.
Mullen told CBS television the endgame of the campaign was “very uncertain” and acknowledged it could end in a stalemate.
Gates told reporters: “I think this is basically going to have to be resolved by the Libyans themselves.”
French planes fired the first shots of the intervention on Saturday, destroying tanks and armoured vehicles near Benghazi.
France sent an aircraft carrier towards Libya and its planes were over the country again on Sunday, defence officials said. Britain said its planes had targeted Libya’s air defences, mainly around the capital Tripoli.
Other countries, including Qatar, also dispatched aircraft to participate in the operation, U.S. officials said.