As U.S., French and British forces blasted Libyan air defenses and ground forces for a second day Sunday, the Arab League secretary-general, Amr Moussa, deplored the broad scope of the U.S.-European bombing campaign in Libya and said he would call a new league meeting to reconsider Arab approval of the Western military intervention.
CAIRO — As U.S., French and British forces blasted Libyan air defenses and ground forces for a second day Sunday, the Arab League secretary-general, Amr Moussa, deplored the broad scope of the U.S.-European bombing campaign in Libya and said he would call a new league meeting to reconsider Arab approval of the Western military intervention.
Late Sunday, smoke billowed from Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s massive Bab Azizia residential compound shortly after a massive, earthshaking explosion in Tripoli.
Immediately afterward, the streets of the capital erupted with car horns, chanting and celebratory gunfire in a show of support for Gadhafi, whose armed loyalists retain a tight grip on the streets.
Moussa said the Arab League’s approval of a “no-fly” zone on March 12 was based on a desire to prevent Gadhafi’s air force from attacking civilians and was not designed to embrace the intense bombing and missile attacks — including on Tripoli, the capital, and on Libyan ground forces — that have filled Arab television screens for the past two days.
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“What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone,” he said in a statement on the official Middle East News Agency. “And what we want is the protection of civilians and not the shelling of more civilians.”
Moussa’s declaration suggested some of the 22 Arab League members were taken aback by what they have seen and wanted to modify their approval lest they be perceived as accepting outright Western military intervention in Libya. Although the eccentric Gadhafi is widely looked down on in the Arab world, Middle Eastern leaders and their peoples traditionally have risen up in emotional protest at the first sign of Western intervention.
A shift away from the Arab League endorsement, even partial, would constitute an important setback to the U.S.-European campaign. Western leaders brandished the Arab League decision as a justification for their decision to move militarily and as a weapon in the debate to obtain a U.N. Security Council Resolution two days before the bombing began.
As U.S. and European military operations entered their second day, however, most Arab governments maintained public silence and the strongest expressions of opposition came from the greatest distance. Presidents Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, Evo Morales of Bolivia and Fidel Castro of Cuba condemned the intervention and suggested Western powers were seeking to get their hands on Libya’s oil reserves rather than limit the bloodshed in the country.
Russia and China, which abstained on the U.N. Security Council Resolution authorizing military intervention, also expressed regret that Western powers had chosen to get involved despite their advice.
In the Middle East, the abiding power of popular distrust against Western intervention was evident despite the March 12 Arab League decision. It was not clear how many Arab governments shared the hesitations voiced by Moussa. But so far only the Western-oriented Gulf emirate of Qatar has announced it would participate despite Western efforts to enlist Arab military forces into the campaign.
The Qatari prime minister, Hamad bin Jassem Al-Thani, told reporters Qatar made its decision in order to “stop the bloodbath” that he said Gadhafi was inflicting on rebel forces and civilians in rebel-controlled cities. He did not describe the extent of Qatar’s military involvement or what the mission of Qatari aircraft or personnel would be alongside U.S., French and British planes and ships that have carried out the initial strikes.
Islam Lutfy, a lawyer and Muslim Brotherhood leader in Egypt, said he opposed the military intervention because the real intention of the United States and its European allies was to get into position to benefit from Libya’s oil supplies. “The countries aligned against Libya are there not for humanitarian reasons but to further their own interests,” he added.
When the Arab League approved imposition of a no-fly zone, only Syria and Algeria opposed the league’s decision, according to Egyptian officials. The Syrian Foreign Ministry on Thursday reiterated Syria’s opposition, as diplomatic momentum gathered for the U.S.-European operation.
“Syria rejects all forms of foreign interference in Libyan affairs, since that would be a violation of Libya’s sovereignty, independence and the unity of its land,” it said in a statement.
Iran and its Shiite Muslim allies in Lebanon’s Hezbollah, reflexively opposed to Western influence in the Middle East, were forced into a somewhat equivocal position, condemning Gadhafi for his bloody tactics but opposing the Western military intervention.
“The fact that most Arab and Muslim leaders did not take responsibility opened the way for Western intervention in Libya,” declared Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, in a video speech Sunday to his followers. “This opens the way for foreign interventions in every Arab country.”
At the same time, Nasrallah accused Gadhafi of using the same brutality against his opponents as Israel has used against Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry, which previously criticized Gadhafi’s crackdown, on Sunday expressed “doubts” about U.S. and European intentions. Like the Latin American critics, it suggested the claims of wanting to protect civilians were just a cover for a desire to install a more malleable leadership in Tripoli and make it easier to exploit Libya’s oil.
Gadhafi has been on the enemies’ list of Shiite activists in the Middle East since 1978, when Lebanon’s paramount Shiite leader, Imam Musa Sudr, disappeared during a fundraising visit to Tripoli. His fate has never been officially cleared up, but Palestine Liberation Organization investigators determined that he was probably killed by Gadhafi’s security agents after they misunderstood an order from Gadhafi to “get rid of” Sudr and his pestering for money.