- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Western coalition Sunday kept up a barrage of airstrikes on Libya, while the head of the Arab League condemned the military action and called an emergency meeting to reconsider Arab support for the mission.

Residents of the Libyan capital, Tripoli, said huge explosions rocked the city late Saturday and early Sunday. In phone interviews with The Washington Times, they also reported hearing regular bursts of anti-aircraft artillery fire.

“There were explosions and flashes of blinding light near my home,” said a resident, who only gave her first name, Rehna, citing a concern for her safety.

Tripoli residents said officials loyal to dictator Moammar Gadhafi were handing out weapons to supporters, and thousands of people had lined up to take the arms.

Before the coalition launched its air war, Col. Gadhafi sent a flurry of letters to Western leaders — including President Obama whom he called “my son” — imploring them not to attack his country.

“I have said to you before that, even if Libya and the United States enter into war, God forbid, you will always remain my son, and I have all the love for you as a son …,” he wrote to Mr. Obama.

Meanwhile, Amr Moussa, secretary general of the 22-nation Arab League, said Sunday he has asked for a report into the foreign strikes, claiming the attacks “led to the deaths and injuries of many Libyan civilians.”

However, Libya’s ambassador in Washington said Mr. Moussa speaks only for himself, not the league, which called for a no-fly zone and endorsed a U.N. Security Council resolution last week that authorized the attacks against Libya.

Ambassador Ali Aujali, who broke with Col. Gadhafi after the start of the uprising last month, accused the Libyan leader of manufacturing a civilian death toll by publicly displaying the bodies of rebels and opponents his own forces killed in the revolt.

Mr. Moussa complained that the airstrikes do not reflect the desire of the Arab League.

“What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians,” Mr. Moussa said.

Mr. Aujali, in an interview with The Times, said, “Libyans requested the international community to come and protect them. Mr. Moussa is just expressing his own view. He is not expressing the Arab Leagues view.

“The Arab League … approved the request … and thats it. We have to get rid of this regime,” Mr. Aujali said.

Doubts were raised over the regimes claims of civilian casualties after Libyans watching state TV noticed bullet wounds in some of the victims bodies.

“How can they have bullet wounds, if the coalition is using airstrikes,” one resident, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, asked incredulously.

Mr. Aujali said the regime had been collecting the bodies of its victims since the start of the uprising and was now placing them at “strategic points” in order to blame the deaths on the international coalition.

“They knew that the international community will strike and are now keeping these bodies as victims of these strikes,” Mr. Aujali said.

“I am not surprised. This regime will do anything. This man has lost touch with reality,” he added.

European and U.S. forces hammered Col. Gadhafi’s troops for a second day Sunday, as pilots from at least on Arab nation prepared to join the Western allies. France said Qatar, a member of the Arab League, will soon deploy four aircraft to take part in the operation.

In Tripoli, support for airstrikes appeared to be mixed a day after the start of foreign military operations.

“A lot of people are very fearful,” said Rehna. “People are afraid that they will be caught up in these actions.”

Libyan state TV reported that 48 people, including civilians, had been killed in missile strikes. Those numbers could not be independently confirmed.

Meanwhile, thousands of the regimes supporters were reported to have packed into Col. Gadhafis military compound, Bab al-Aziziya, purportedly to serve as human shields against foreign attacks, according to state broadcasts.

Some Libyans said the regime had tricked its supporters into arriving at the compound and were now keeping them against their will. One resident, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the regime had also taken prisoners and packed them into the compound.

Heavy fighting was reported from the rebel stronghold of Misurata, 130 miles east of Tripoli. Phone lines in the city remained cut on Sunday.

Forces loyal to Col. Gadhafi attacked the rebel capital Benghazi in the east on Saturday. One of Col. Gadhafis sons said these forces had gone to liberate the city from “the gangsters and armed militia.”

In an interview with ABC News on Sunday, Saif al-Islam Gadhafi said he was surprised that international forces were attacking Libya.

“We were surprised that … the Americans and the British and the French attacked Libya, attacked five cities, terrorized people especially children, women who were so afraid yesterday. Heavy bombing everywhere,” Saif al-Islam Gadhafi said.

He accused the West of supporting terrorists and armed militia. “[B]elieve me, one day, you’ll wake up and you will find out that you were supporting the wrong people, and you are doing a big mistake with supporting those people,” he said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.