Two US airmen have been rescued after ejecting from their F-15E Eagle warplane just before it crashed during allied operations in eastern Libya.

The plane appeared to suffer mechanical failure near the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, the US military said.

It came down after a third night of US-led coalition attacks on Col Muammar Gaddafi’s forces, aimed at enforcing a UN resolution to protect civilians.

Debate is continuing in the coalition over who should take command.

‘Don’t be scared’

The US military would not give the exact location the F-15E Eagle came down, but said both crewmen suffered only minor injuries after ejecting.

The aircraft was based in England and was operating out of Aviano in Italy. It was on a mission against a Gaddafi missile site, the Pentagon said.

One Libyan who came across the crashed jet told Britain’s Daily Telegraph that one pilot held his hands in the air and said “OK, OK”, but was quickly thanked by locals for his participation in the air strikes.

Younis Amruni told the Telegraph: “I hugged him and said ‘don’t be scared, we are your friends’.”

The crash followed renewed allied air strikes overnight.

Libyan state television reported that Tripoli was “under crusader enemy aerial bombardment” and that several sites had been attacked.

The Libyan authorities said a naval base at Bussetta, about 10km (six miles) east of Tripoli, and a fishing village had also been hit.

Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said Monday’s air and missile strikes had caused “numerous” civilian casualties, especially at the “civilian airport” in Sirte.

Fighting between Col Gaddafi’s forces and the rebels continued on Friday, despite the declaration of a ceasefire by the government:

* A doctor in Misrata – the last rebel-held city in western Libya – told the BBC that residents had suffered another night of shelling by government forces, with 22 deaths and 100 injuries

* In Zintan, near the Tunisian border, one resident told Reuters at least 10 people had been killed in a Gaddafi bombardment

* In Yafran, 130km south-west of Tripoli, at least nine people were killed in clashes, residents said

* Gaddafi forces continue to hold rebels on the eastern frontline near Ajdabiya

Many of the reports of overnight strikes and fighting cannot be independently confirmed.

Embargo

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said on Tuesday that coalition forces were “going to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties”.

Mr Gates, after talks in Moscow with his Russian counterpart Anatoly Serdyukov, added: “I also told him that I thought the significant military fighting that has been going on should recede in the next few days.”

Russia, which abstained in last week’s UN Security Council vote on the resolution authorising force in Libya, has since criticised the air strikes.

China has also urged all parties to “immediately cease fire and resolve issues through peaceful means”.

On Monday US President Barack Obama said the US would soon cede control of operations in Libya – “in a matter of days and not in a matter of weeks”.

Mr Gates has said the mission could come under French-British or Nato control.

But divisions have emerged within Nato over taking command, with France and Turkey in particular offering objections.

France has indicated Arab countries would not want Nato to lead and that the organisation should support US, French and British political control.

Turkey wants limits on Nato involvement and says the air strikes have already gone beyond the UN resolution.

Italy said it could withdraw its bases without a co-ordinated Nato structure and Norway said its jets would not take part in the action as long as it was unclear who was in overall command.

Nato officials say they do not expect a decision for several days.

Nato did agree on Tuesday to begin enforcing a UN arms embargo on Libya, using aircraft and ships in the Mediterranean to “conduct operations to monitor, report and, if needed, interdict vessels suspected of carrying illegal arms or mercenaries”.

Also on Tuesday, Algeria called for an “immediate cessation of hostilities and foreign intervention”, saying the latter was “disproportionate” in relation to the UN resolution.

Meanwhile rebel leaders based in eastern Libya have had talks with United Nations officials on the humanitarian situation there.

The BBC’s Kevin Connolly in Tobruk, where the talks were held, says that although food is being imported in the region from Egypt, it is not clear how viable the local economy will be if it remains cut off from the rest of Libya.

United Nations aid agencies say they believe thousands of Libyan citizens are displaced within the country, amid reports of severe shortages of food and medicines, and reprisals by government forces.

The agencies are hoping to get a convoy of aid into Libya on Wednesday.

Source: BBC

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