NATO agreed to take command of the Libya no-fly zone without assuming responsibility for air strikes against Libyan military targets that sparked discord within the 28-nation alliance. The agreement among members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization means the U.S. will likely stay in charge of the attacks on Muammar Qaddafi’s ground forces, which continued overnight. many in Tripoli.

By Gregory Viscusi and Tony Capaccio

(Updates with more strikes in second paragraph. See EXTRA and MET for more on unrest in the Middle East and North Africa.)

March 25 (Bloomberg) — NATO agreed to take command of the Libya no-fly zone without assuming responsibility for air strikes against Libyan military targets that sparked discord within the 28-nation alliance.

The agreement among members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization means the U.S. will likely stay in charge of the attacks on Muammar Qaddafi’s ground forces, which continued overnight. Explosions were heard in the capital, Tripoli, before daybreak today, apparently from air strikes, the Associated Press said.

The anti-Qaddafi coalition flew 130 sorties in a 24-hour period, of which 49 were sent to hit ground targets, and launched 14 Tomahawk cruise missiles against Libyan air-defense and missile sites, Vice Admiral Bill Gortney of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staffs said yesterday. Qatar is sending planes to help enforce the no-fly zone, which will make it the first Arab participant, and the United Arab Emirates also pledged to join, reversing an earlier decision.

Air strikes on Libya, entering a seventh day, have already damaged Qaddafi’s air force and weakened his army. The U.S. and allies including France and the U.K., acting under a United Nations remit to protect Libyan civilians, say the strikes are needed because Qaddafi’s forces continue to attack cities such as Misrata, Ajdabiya and Zentan.

French officials, who pushed hardest for military action, predicted a quick end to the conflict. Defense Minister Gerard Longuet said the coalition has intercepted conversations among Libyan officers indicating that many are ready to abandon the regime. Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said the “military action will be counted in days and in weeks, not in months.”

Oil Surge

Oil prices have jumped about 25 percent since the Libyan rebellion began last month, heightening concerns about Middle East crude supplies. The revolt has evolved from the kind popular uprising seen in Egypt and Tunisia into a civil war.

Elsewhere, Syria said it may end emergency rule and grant more freedom for political parties, in response to protests that reportedly left many dead. In Yemen, the political opposition to President Ali Abdullah Saleh plans a nationwide protest against the state of emergency ordered by the president after a massacre of demonstrators last week. In Bahrain, mostly Shiite Muslim opposition supporters plan a rally to denounce government violence that has left about 20 of them dead.

Oil pared gains yesterday after rising to a 2 1/2-year high this week, with crude for May delivery falling 15 cents to settle at $105.60 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It was trading at the same level at 7:10 a.m. in London today.

Cease-Fire Talks

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he expects Libyan government and opposition representatives to hold cease-fire talks today under African Union auspices in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

NATO’s role will be limited for now to the no-fly zone, said Anders Fogh Rasmussen, its secretary general. “We have not decided yet whether we will take on a broader responsibility,” Rasmussen said in an interview on CNN.

The alliance will take over command of the no-fly-zone operations in one or two days, according to a U.S. administration official authorized to brief reporters on the condition his name not be used.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, after talks with foreign ministers from NATO members Turkey, France and the U.K., said that the alliance would further consider plans to assume command of ground-strike missions. Turkey, a majority-Muslim nation, and Germany have publicly questioned NATO taking on a combat role in Libya. Germany this week pulled two frigates and two other ships from NATO operations in the Mediterranean.

Warnings to Fighters

Coalition attacks have eliminated Qaddafi’s air force and are now concentrated on his army, especially on supply lines and logistics capabilities, though the task is complicated by the proximity of the forces to population centers, said Gortney. He said Qaddafi’s soldiers are being sent communications demanding they stop attacks.

“Our message is, don’t follow the regime’s orders, don’t attack the people, just cease fighting, stay in place, abandon your equipment,” he said in a briefing to reporters at the Pentagon. “But if you threaten the Libyan people, attack the Libyan people, we are going to take you under attack.”

U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague reaffirmed that there will be no invasion of Libya by Western countries, though he said he “can’t exclude” the small-scale use of special forces on the ground.

The United Arab Emirates said today it will send six F-16 and six Mirage jets to help enforce the zone, reversing an earlier decision to take part in humanitarian aid missions only, the state-run WAM news agency said.

–With assistance from Ola Galal in Cairo, James Neuger and Leon Mangasarian in Brussels, Patrick Donahue in Berlin, Kitty Donaldson in London, Vivian Salama and Maher Chmaytelli in Dubai, Roger Runningen and Kate Andersen Brower in Washington and Margot Habiby in Dallas. Editors: Terry Atlas, Ben Holland, James Hertling.

To contact the reporters on this story: Gregory Viscusi in Paris at gviscusi@bloomberg.net; Tony Capaccio in Washington at acapaccio@bloomberg.net.

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