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The World

March 19, 2011

Gadhafi strikes rebels as diplomats mull action

BENGHAZI, Libya — Moammar Gadhafi took advantage of international indecision to attack the heart of the 5-week-old uprising on Saturday, sending troops, artillery and warplanes to swarm the first city seized by the rebels. Crashing shells shook buildings, and the sounds of battle drew closer to Benghazi's center.

"Where is France, where is NATO?" cried a 50-year-old woman in Benghazi. "It's too late."

Leaders from the Arab world, the United States and other Western powers are holding urgent talks in Paris over possible military action, and France's ambassador to the United Nations, Gerard Araud, told BBC Newsnight that he expected military action to begin within hours of the meeting. Gadafhi warned international forces: "You will regret it if you dare to intervene in our country."

On Saturday, a warplane was shot down over the outskirts of Benghazi, sending up a massive black cloud of smoke. An Associated Press reporter saw the plane go down in flames and heard the sound of artillery and crackling gunfire.

Before the plane went down, journalists heard what appeared to be airstrikes from it. Rebels cheered and celebrated at the crash, though the government denied a plane had gone down — or that any towns were shelled on Saturday.

The fighting galvanized the people of Benghazi, with young men collecting bottles to make gasoline bombs. Some residents dragged bed frames and metal scraps into the streets to make roadblocks.

Abdel-Hafez, a 49-year-old Benghazi resident, said rebels and government soldiers were fighting on a university campus on the south side of the city, with government tanks moving in, followed by ground troops.

At a news conference in the capital, Tripoli, the government spokesman read letters from Gadhafi to President Barack Obama as well as others involved in the international effort.

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