UNITED NATIONS, March 17 (UPI) -- The U.N. Security Council Thursday approved airstrikes to impose a no-fly zone over Libya, by a vote of 10-0 with five abstentions, including China and Russia.
U.S., U.K. and French military aircraft began preparations to protect the western Libyan city of Benghazi, a rebel stronghold, after the vote, Britain's The Guardian newspaper reported.
The Security Council approved the resolution -- sponsored by the United Kingdom, France and Lebanon -- backing the use of "all necessary measures short of an occupation force" to protect the rebels and protesters, and several Arab nations were expected to join the military action, the newspaper said.
Dictator Moammar Gadhafi issued a statement on state television shortly before the vote, saying: "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 counterattack. The Mediterranean basin will face danger not just in the short term, but also in the long term.
"No more fear, no more hesitation, the moment of truth has come," Gadhafi said. "There will be no mercy. Our troops will be coming to Benghazi tonight."
Military action beyond a no-fly zone should be considered to protect Libyans threatened by Gadhafi's forces, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said before the vote.
"We need to be prepared to contemplate steps that include, but perhaps go beyond, a no-fly zone at this point, as the situation on the ground has evolved, and as a no-fly zone has inherent limitations in terms of protection of civilians at immediate risk," Rice said.
The League of Arab States Saturday requested that the United Nations authorize military action against Libya to protect civilians.
"The turning point was really the Arab League statement on Saturday," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday to reporters traveling with her in Cairo. "That was an extraordinary statement in which the Arab League asked for Security Council action against one of its own members.
"As we speak there is an intense debate in New York, and they are looking at the details of what Arab participation will be," Clinton said.
Lebanese U.N. Ambassador Nawaf Salam said a "number" of Arab nations would join in enforcing a no-fly zone, but did not specify which Arab nations would participate, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Libya's deputy U.N. envoy, Ibrahim Dabbashi, who broke with the Gadhafi regime last month, warned Wednesday that if the international community did not intervene within 10 hours, Libya risked genocide, The New York Times reported.
Gadhafi's second-oldest son, Saif al-Islam Moammar Gadhafi, said Wednesday: "Within 48 hours everything will be finished. Our forces are almost in Benghazi," Libya's second-largest city and the provisional capital of the rebel's interim Libyan government.