Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s regime last night threatened retaliation attacks against passenger aircraft in the Mediterranean if foreign countries launched air strikes against Libya.

The warning came as the United States said it would back a United Nations resolution for military action to protect civilians against Gaddafi’s forces.

After deliberating for weeks over what to do about Gaddafi, the UN acted with sudden speed and passed the resolution as it became clear the dictator would try to finally put a brutal end to the month-long rebellion against his rule, especially in the opposition-held city of Benghazi.

In a radio address, Gaddafi urged rebels there to surrender, and backed his call with threats.

“We are coming tonight … There won’t be any mercy.”

He said every house in the city would be searched.

His ground forces were about 130km south of Benghazi at the time.

Speaking in an interview with Portuguese television broadcast just before the UN vote, Gaddafi pledged to respond harshly to UN-sponsored attacks.

“If the world is crazy,” he said, “we will be crazy, too.”

The United Nations Security Council responded with a resolution authorising the world to take “all necessary measures” to prevent attacks on Libyan civilians by the Gaddafi regime.

It imposed a no-fly zone over Libya and authorised force short of a ground offensive to protect the people from Gaddafi’s forces.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said earlier in the day that a no-fly zone would require bombing targets inside Libya, including some defence systems.

British and French sources said their forces could be mobilised immediately. The first raids could happen within hours if Gaddafi acted on his threat to “show no mercy” to rebels in Benghazi.

American officials said they expected an attempt to ground Gaddafi’s air force could begin this weekend and would probably involve jet fighters, bombers and surveillance aircraft.

The Libyan Defence Ministry delivered its warning of retaliation as it became clear the UN resolution would be passed with US support.

“Any foreign military act against Libya will expose all air and maritime traffic in the Mediterranean Sea to danger, and civilian and military [facilities] will become targets of Libya’s counter-attack,” it said.

That was in contrast to comments made by Libya’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Khaled Kaaim, who said Libya was ready for a ceasefire with the rebels.

The Security Council resolution was passed 10-0 but caused a split among leading powers, with China, Russia, Germany, India and Brazil all abstaining from voting.

The UN resolution

Demands
* Immediate ceasefire.
* End to violence against civilians.
* Libyan authorities to allow humanitarian assistance.

Authorises
* UN member states to take all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the country, including Benghazi.
* No-fly zone over Libya.

Excludes
* Foreign occupation force.

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