NATO suggests a Ramadan ceasefire in Libya

NATO appears concerned that bombing Libya during Ramadan could provoke a backlash in Islamic world.

Brussels: NATO suggested on Tuesday that it would be willing to stop bombing Libya during Ramadan, if Muammar Gaddafi`s forces also honoured a ceasefire during the Muslim holy month.

"We need to wait and see whether Gaddafi`s forces continue to shell and inflict harm," said a NATO spokesman, Wing Cmdr Mike Bracken.

"If they do, and we believe there is risk to the lives of Libyan people, then I think it would be highly appropriate to continue to use the mandate that NATO has to protect those lives," Bracken said during a teleconference from NATO`s operational command in Naples, Italy.

NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said, "It is hoped that Gaddafi`s forces will stop attacking and threatening to attack civilians, not just for Ramadan but immediately. As long as attacks and threats continue, NATO`s mission remains to protect civilians in Libya."

US-led forces have not honoured Ramadan — which begins about August 01 — by stopping their bombing campaigns against the armed groups they face in mostly Muslim Iraq and Afghanistan.

But Gaddafi has claimed that NATO`s air force attacks on cities such as Tripoli, Libya`s capital, are aimed at civilians. NATO also appears concerned that bombing the city during Ramadan — a monthlong period of prayer, reflection and sunrise-to-sunset fasting — could provoke a backlash in the Islamic world.

The Western alliance is operating under a UN mandate that allows the use of air force raids to protect Libya`s civilians. It could halt such attacks, but some analysts have warned that any letup in the bombing could quickly backfire.

Gaddafi`s forces have been weakened by the campaign of aerial bombardment that has lasted nearly four months, but they remain more than a match on the ground for the ragtag rebel forces.

Meanwhile, a delegation of Libya`s National Transitional Council headed by its diplomatic chief Mahmoud Jibril is scheduled to make its first visit to NATO headquarters on Wednesday.

The delegation will meet with Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and attend a meeting of the North Atlantic Council, NATO`s top decision-making body. Diplomats said the delegation is likely to ask the alliance to keep up its air strikes during August.

The Libyans also will meet with top European Union officials, including Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission.

In May, EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton opened a diplomatic office in Benghazi, Libya`s de facto rebel capital, and pledged support for a democratic Libya.

When NATO took command in Libya on March 31 from the US-led international coalition that had launched the first air strikes against Libya, the alliance expected that a sudden, sharp blow would quickly persuade Gaddafi to yield power.

The bombing campaign has managed to halt Gaddafi`s forces and prevent the fall of opposition-held cities such as Benghazi and Misrata, but it has not dislodged the regime.

Bureau Report