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The United States-led military coalition on Sunday hit Libyan defence targets with cruise missiles and launched air attacks as Muammar Gaddafi vowed to open his arms depots to the people to retaliate against the Western 'aggression.'
French jets fired the first shots in Operation Odyssey Dawn, the biggest international military intervention in the Arab world since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, destroying tanks and armoured vehicles in eastern Libya, Al-Jazeera reported.
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They were joined by the US and the UK who fired over 110 Tomahawk missiles from American and British ships and submarines, hitting about 20 Libyan air and missile defence targets in the capital Tripoli and along the Mediterranean coast, US Navy Vice Admiral William Gortney said at a Pentagon briefing.
The aircraft pounded areas in close proximity to the headquarters of Gaddafi in Tripoli early today as eyewitnesses said a jet flew over the Bab al-Azizia military compound, situated in the southern suburbs of Tripoli.
Al-Jazeera quoted an unnamed US military official as saying that "Gaddafi's air defence systems have been severely disabled. It's too soon to predict what he and his ground forces may do in response to today's strikes."
However, Libyan state television reported that 48 civilian were killed and 150 wounded as a result of this "aggression". The channel said most of the casualties were children but gave no more details.
Hours after the strikes began, a defiant Gaddafi vowed to open the stores and arm civilians to defend Libya from what he called "colonial, crusader" aggression by Western forces.
"It is now necessary to open the stores and arm all the masses with all types of weapons to defend the independence, unity and honour of Libya," Gaddafi said in a brief audio message broadcast on state television early today.
"The interests of countries face danger from now on in the Mediterranean because of this aggressive and mad behaviour," he said.
The air strikes was launched on Saturday after officials of a number of countries meeting in Paris ordered a large- scale military intervention into Libya in order to end the assaults on civilians launched by Gaddafi's forces.
Spain, Norway, and Denmark have also announced that they are joining the large-scale military intervention into Libya, the Press TV reported.
Earlier, US President Barack Obama said that it had not been his first choice to authorise US participation in military strikes against the Gaddafi regime.
"This is not an outcome the US or any of our partners sought," Obama said from Brazil, where he has just begun a five-day visit through Latin America.
US military forces are on the leading edge of the coalition operation, taking out Libya's integrated air and missile defence system.
"The ordnance is aimed at radars and anti-aircraft sites around the capital of Tripoli and other facilities along the Mediterranean coast," the Pentagon said in a statement.
The US will conduct a damage assessment of the sites, which include SA-5 missiles and communications facilities. Meanwhile, Libya has suspended cooperation with Europe on the issue of illegal immigration, Libyan state-TV reported.
It has also demanded an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the crisis. Mohammad al-Zawi, the secretary-general of the Libyan parliament, said his country was facing a "barbaric" attack, and reiterated that Libyan forces had been observing a "ceasefire".
African Union has criticised the military operations and called for an "immediate stop" to air strikes, saying it rejects "any kind of foreign military intervention" in Libya.
"The situation in Libya demands urgent action so an African solution (can be found) to the very serious crisis which this sister nation is going through," said Mauritanian President Ould Abdel Aziz who is one of the AU panel members.
A solution must take into account "our desire that Libya's unity and territorial integrity be respected", he said. In London, British Prime Minister David Cameron said his forces were in action over Libya. "What we are doing is necessary, it is legal and it is right... I believe we should not stand aside while this dictator murders his own people."
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, earlier, noted his country's warplanes are already targeting Gaddafi's forces.