Prime Minister David Cameron ordered the launch of the mission after the UN Security Council approved a resolution authorising “all necessary measures” short of military occupation to protect civilians in Libya against Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s forces.
The Gaddafi regime responded by announcing an immediate ceasefire. Speaking in Tripoli, foreign minister Mussa Kussa declared that the regime recognised it was obliged to accept the resolution.
The announcement was treated with caution by Britain and its allies. Mr Cameron said Britain would judge Col Gaddafi “by his actions, not his words”, while United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: “We would have to see action on the ground – and that is not yet clear.”
Rebels in Libya said Col Gaddafi’s forces were continuing to bombard opposition-held cities, and warned of troops advancing on their stronghold of Benghazi.
But a Libyan spokesman insisted last night there would be no attack on Benghazi and invited international observers into the country.
Earlier, US President Barack Obama warned the terms of UN demands were “not negotiable”.
President Obama said: “If Gaddafi does not comply with the resolution, the international community will impose consequences – and the resolution will be enforced through military action.”
Troops must pull back from the opposition strongholds of Benghazi, Adjadbiya, Misrata and Zawiyah, and gas, electricity, water and humanitarian relief must be supplied to people, he said.
The president added it would be Britain, France and the Arab League who would take a “leadership role” in the operation.