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Rebels down jet over Benghazi

As rebels were celebrating the implementation of a no-fly zone over Libya witnesses say a plane has been shot down over the rebel-held city of Benghazi.

Update: A rebel spokesman was quoted as saying the downed jet was a rebel plane. The pilot was seen parachuting over the outskirts of Benghazi.

A reporter saw the plane go down in flames outside Benghazi early today, sending up a black cloud of smoke after the city came under attack. The sound of artillery and crackling gunfire was heard in the distance.

Trying to outmanoeuvre Western military intervention, Gaddafi's government declared a cease-fire on Friday as the rebel uprising faltered against his artillery, tanks and warplanes.

But the opposition said shells rained down well after the announcement and accused the Libyan leader of lying.

Wary of the cease-fire, Britain and France took the lead in plans to enforce a no-fly zone, sending British warplanes to the Mediterranean and announcing a crisis summit in Paris with the UN and Arab allies.

In Washington, President Barack Obama ruled out the use of American ground troops but warned that the US, which has an array of naval and air forces in the region, would join in military action.

There should be no doubt about the Libyan leader's intentions "because he has made them clear", Obama said. "Just yesterday, speaking of the city of Benghazi, a city of roughly 700,000, he threatened 'we will have no mercy and no pity.' No mercy on his own citizens."

In a joint statement to Gaddafi late Friday, the United States, Britain and France - backed by unspecified Arab countries - said a cease-fire must begin "immediately" in Libya, the French presidential palace said.

The statement called on Gaddafi to end his troops' advance toward Benghazi, the rebel headquarters, and pull them out of the cities of Misrata, Ajdabiya and Zawiya, and called for the restoration of water, electricity and gas services in all areas.

It said Libyans must be able to receive humanitarian aid or the "international community will make him suffer the consequences" with military action.

Parts of eastern Libya, where the once-confident rebels this week found their hold slipping, erupted into celebration at the passage of the UN resolution. But the timing and consequences of any international military action remained unclear.

Misrata, Libya's third-largest city and the last held by rebels in the west, came under sustained assault well after the cease-fire announcement, according to rebels and a doctor there. The doctor, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared reprisals, said Gaddafi's snipers were on rooftops and his forces were searching homes for rebels.

"The shelling is continuing, and they are using flashlights to perform surgery. We don't have anaesthetic to put our patients down," said the doctor, who counted 25 deaths since the morning.

Libya's deputy foreign minister, Khaled Kaim, denied late Friday that government forces had violated the cease-fire and invited four nations to send observers to monitor compliance: Germany, China, Turkey and Malta.

"The cease-fire for us means no military operations whatsoever, big or small," he told reporters in Tripoli.

He said military forces were positioned outside Benghazi but that the government had no intention of sending them into the city.



Background

No-fly zones refer to demilitarised air space — an area which has been declared |off-limits to aircraft, especially military aircraft. The tactic is most often used to suppress violence by one side in an internal or regional conflict, in order to protect civilians. Thursday's UN Security Council resolution on possible military action against Libya authorised other countries to take “all necessary means” to protect civilians in the North African country.

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