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Coalition Trying to Expand Libyan No-Fly Zone

Elizabeth Arrott | Cairo March 22, 2011

U.N.-backed forces are trying to expand a "no-fly" zone across much of northern Libya, after three days of airstrikes weakened Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's defenses. So far, a U.S. jet taking part in the operation has crash-landed.

The international coalition plans to extend the zone from the rebel stronghold of Benghazi in the east to the capital, Tripoli, 1,000 kilometers to the west.

Loyalist forces in Tripoli sent up anti-aircraft fire in an attempt to ward off strikes by fighter jets sent by the U.S., France and Britain.

The U.S. confirmed Tuesday that one of its jets crash-landed in Libya the day before. The military said the likely cause was mechanical problems, not hostile fire. Both crewmembers are said to be safe.

Despite the expanding "no-fly" zone coverage - part of a U.N. resolution to protect civilians from Libyan government attacks - opposition sources in two western towns report continuing fighting.

Residents said pro-Gadhafi forces are on the offensive in both Misrata and Zintan, possibly in a bid to escape the aerial barrage. Strains in international backing for the mission increased Tuesday, with China joining the list of dissenters.

China Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said Beijing wants an immediate cease-fire and seeks a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

China, like fellow critic Russia, abstained from backing the U.N. resolution authorizing the attacks, but did not veto the measure. The Arab League, which also initially supported the U.N. move, has also expressed reservations.

All say they are concerned about possible civilian casualties and a humanitarian crisis, exactly what the measure aims to prevent.

Pro-Gadhafi forces had retaken much of the territory claimed by rebels since a popular uprising turned into an armed rebellion last month. Government forces had entered Benghazi last Saturday, the day the international bombardment began.

The Libyan government says the air assaults have killed dozens of civilians, but those claims could not be independently confirmed.

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