UK forces are preparing to help enforce a no-fly zone over Libya after the UN backed “all necessary measures”, short of an invasion, to protect civilians.
Downing Street has cautioned against earlier suggestions that British planes could be in action “within hours” and declined to put a timetable on it.
The UN resolution rules out a foreign occupation force in any part of Libya.
The cabinet will meet later and Prime Minister David Cameron will make a statement to the Commons, No 10 said.
The resolution imposes a “ban on all flights in Libyan airspace”, with aid flights the only exception.
It authorises member states to “take all necessary measures” to “protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack”, including in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.
It also calls for an immediate ceasefire, an end to the violence, measures to make it more difficult for foreign mercenaries to get into Libya and a tightening of sanctions.
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said it was a “positive response to the call by the Arab League” for measures to protect Libyan civilians and was the culmination of “a great deal of hard work in the last few days” by France, the UK, Lebanon and the US.
“It is necessary to take these measures to avoid greater bloodshed,” Mr Hague said.
“This places a responsibility on members of the United Nations and that is a responsibility to which the United Kingdom will now respond.”
Ten UN Security Council members backed the resolution while five abstained – nine votes were needed for it to pass.
France, the UK, Lebanon, the US, South Africa, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Colombia, Portugal, Nigeria and Gabon all voted in favour, while China, Russia, Brazil, India and Germany abstained.
Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi’s forces have recently retaken several towns seized by rebels in an uprising.
Rebel forces in Benghazi reacted with joy to the passing of the resolution but a Libyan government spokesman condemned UN “aggression”.
Loyalist forces are bearing down on Benghazi, home to a million people. Forces loyal to Col Gaddafi have reportedly launched their first air attacks on the town, targeting the airport at Benina.
Col Gaddafi had earlier warned the rebels there that his troops were coming and to expect “no mercy”.
Senior UN sources had said British and French warplanes could be in the air within hours of the UN vote to carry out initial air raids on Libyan positions, possibly with logistical support from Arab allies.
But No 10 sources have declined to put any timetable on possible British military engagement – or whether action could begin this weekend.
David Cameron will feel a sense of vindication tonight”
This post has been viewed 313 times.