French jets begin No-Fly patrols over Libya. Daring Qaddafi to shoot one down. Pro-Qaddafi forces have entered parts of Benghazi, Al Arabiya TV reported. Forces advancing included tanks, it said, adding that 11 fighters loyal to Qaddafi were killed. A BBC correspondent reported seeing government tanks on a bridge. The rebels said they shot down one of their own fighter jets.

that By Helene Fouquet and Leon Mangasarian

19 March 2011

(Updates with Paris meeting starting in seventh paragraph. For more on the Middle East turmoil, see EXTRA and MET.)

March 19 (Bloomberg) — French military jets flew over Libya, ready to enforce an air-exclusion zone to halt Muammar Qaddafi’s attacks on rebels, as Western leaders met in Paris to consider their next steps.

The planes were in the air not far from Libya this afternoon and were ready to carry out air strikes if there are orders from President Nicolas Sarkozy, a military official with knowledge of the preparations said on condition of anonymity.

Qaddafi’s forces attacked the rebel stronghold of Benghazi today in defiance of international demands for a cease-fire, television stations reported. Al Jazeera cited the head of the rebel council, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, as saying bombing raids took place in the eastern port city of 1 million people. There is no indication that the Libyan leader is following through on his regime’s pledge that it will observe United Nations demands for a cease-fire, a State Department official said.

Strikes against Libya would mark the first military action by Western powers against an Arab government since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Oil prices have risen 11 percent since the start of the year as the Middle East protests that toppled the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt turned violent, sparking government crackdowns from Libya to Yemen.

Timing of Strikes

The UN Security Council authorized the use of air attacks and a no-fly zone over Libya two days ago to protect civilians. The French newspaper Le Figaro, citing an unidentified official, reported that air strikes might start once the Paris summit hosted by Sarkozy is over, with French, U.K., Canadian and Norwegian planes set to carry out the first attacks.

Pro-Qaddafi forces entered parts of Benghazi, Al Arabiya TV reported. Forces advancing included tanks, it said, adding that 11 fighters loyal to Qaddafi were killed. A BBC correspondent reported seeing government tanks on a bridge. The rebels said they shot down one of their own fighter jets.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is attending the meeting in Paris today on imposing the air-exclusion zone hosted Sarkozy. British Prime Minister David Cameron, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Arab League representatives are also taking part.

Shokri Ghanem, the chairman of Libya’s National Oil Corp., said Libyan oil production has slumped to less than 400,000 barrels a day and “could reach a halt.” Daily supply from Africa’s third-largest producer was 1.58 million barrels in January, according to the Paris-based International Energy Agency.

Oil Commitments

Ghanem, speaking to reporters in Tripoli, said the UN resolutions wouldn’t prevent Libya from meeting its oil commitments and that “nobody wants to see the oil industry disintegrated.”

“If it’s disintegrated it will take a long time to come back into production,” he said.

Oil fell yesterday after the Libyan regime said it would cease military operations and begin talks with the rebels. Crude for April delivery dropped 35 cents to settle at $101.07 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Futures were up as much as 2.2 percent at $103.66 before the Libyan announcement.

Qaddafi said in a message to Cameron, Sarkozy and Ban that the UN resolution was void, a government spokesman told a televised news conference in Tripoli.

“You will regret it if you intervene in our country,” Qaddafi said. “It is our country, not yours.”

Qaddafi said in a separate letter to President Barack Obama that he has “all the Libyan people on my side” and is fighting against al-Qaeda.

‘I Love You’

“What would you do if you found them taking over American cities by force? Tell me how you would act so I could do the same,” Qaddafi wrote, according to the spokesman, Ibrahim Moussa. “Even if Libya and America fought a war, God forbid, you will remain my son and I love you.”

Unrest continued across the region, with Yemen declaring a state of emergency yesterday after government forces attacked protesters in Sana’a in the deadliest crackdown in two months of unrest. At least 46 people were killed and hundreds injured as police and pro-regime gunmen shot at a crowd. Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah ordered increases in government spending, including $67 billion on housing, to prevent protests in his kingdom from gathering pace.

“Qaddafi is just trying to sow confusion and win time by announcing a cease-fire,” said Jan Techau, director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Brussels and a former analyst at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Defense College in Rome and the German Defense Ministry. “He knows if his troops get into Benghazi it will be very messy for the allies to use air power,” Techau said in a telephone interview.

Stop Attacks

Obama, speaking at the White House yesterday, set out the demands he, Cameron and Sarkozy are imposing on the Libyan regime. Qaddafi must immediately stop attacks on civilians, halt his advance on Benghazi, and pull back forces from three embattled cities, Ajdabiya, Misrata, and Zawiyah, scenes of deadly fighting in the past two weeks.

The Libyan leader must also re-establish water, gasoline and electricity supplies to all areas, and he must allow aid to “reach the people of Libya,” Obama said.

Protect Civilians

The UN resolution demands a cease-fire, an end to abuses of civilians, and moves to meet “the legitimate demands of the Libyan people.” The resolution, approved by a vote of 10-0 with five abstentions, allows the U.S., the U.K., France and allied Arab nations to “take all necessary measures” to protect civilians.

Obama said the allies are prepared to use military action because of the “potential for mass murder of innocent civilians” by Qaddafi’s forces.

He said allies won’t use force beyond the goal of protecting civilians and the U.S. won’t send ground forces into Libya. He indicated the U.S. will provide logistics for the no- fly zone to be established by the U.K. and France.

NATO members Britain, France, Denmark, Spain and Canada have pledged planes to the mission, according to government statements and press reports, and Qatar said it would participate.

–With assistance from Inal Ersan in Dubai, Roxana Tiron in Paris and Mariam Fam and Ola Galal in Cairo. Editors: Eddie Buckle, Digby Lidstone.

To contact the reporters on this story: Helene Fouquet in Paris at hfouquet1@bloomberg.net; Leon Mangasarian in Berlin at lmangasarian@bloomberg.net;

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net

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