Gulf bloc: Qatar, UAE in coalition striking Libya

The Associated Press
Monday, March 21, 2011; 12:58 PM

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates -- The head of the Gulf's main political bloc on Monday emphasized the commitment of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to the international military coalition striking Libya but stressed the mission seeks only to protect civilians.

The reaffirmation of the Gulf states' backing for the multinational force follows criticism by the Arab League's chief over the heavy missile barrages by U.S. and European forces against Libyan air defenses, tanks and other targets.

"What is happening now is not an intervention. It is about protecting the people from bloodshed," said Abdul Rahman bin Hamad al-Attiyah, secretary-general of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council.

He would not clarify the role of Qatar or the UAE in the Libyan operations.

French Defense Ministry spokesman Laurent Teisseire said Sunday that Qatari warplanes planned to join the operation alongside French jets as a "historic partner" of France in the Arab world. Qatar's state news agency confirmed the country's aircraft are taking part in the no-fly zone but gave no details.

The UAE's state news agency WAM said the country's role was "strictly confined" to humanitarian assistance.

The UAE's foreign minister, Sheik Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, attended a weekend meeting in Paris to coordinate the coalition effort. He did not take questions from reporters in the Emirati capital Monday.

U.S., British and French planes targeted Gadhafi's anti-aircraft sites for a second night and also destroyed a line of his tanks moving on the rebel capital in eastern Libya.

On Sunday, the Arab League chief, Amr Moussa, raised questions about Arab participation in the coalition after arguing that the attacks on Moammar Gadhafi's forces go beyond the mandate to impose a no-fly zone to halt Libyan air raids on rebel strongholds.

On Monday, he tried to smooth over the controversy over his statement, saying that the league respects the Security Council resolution.

"We have no conflict with the resolution, especially as it confirms that there is no invasion or occupation of Libyan territory," Moussa told reporters in Cairo after talks with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Libya has claimed dozens of civilians have been killed in the strikes by the U.S. and European forces.

In London, a Foreign Office spokesperson denied those claims.

"Unlike Gadhafi, the coalition is not attacking civilians. The U.N. resolution authorizes all necessary measures to protect the Libyan people," the spokesperson said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with department policy. "All missions are meticulously planned to ensure every care is taken to avoid civilian casualties."

The UAE and Qatar also have joined Saudi-led forces in Bahrain to support the nation's embattled Sunni leadership after more than a month of anti-government protests led by the country's Shiite majority.

Al-Attiyah said there is no timeline on the presence of the more than 1,500 Gulf troops in Bahrain - which has come under sharp criticism from Iran and its Shiite allies around the Middle East.

"The arrival of forces is not an act of repression," he said.

Al-Attiyah spoke on the sidelines of a regional security meeting in Abu Dhabi. The GCC members are Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

© 2011 The Associated Press