By NBF News

AS the European and U.S. forces unleashed warplanes and cruise missiles against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's forces in the biggest Western military intervention in the Arab world since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo has warned the embattled Libyan leader that any threat to attack civilians would constitute a war crime.

The media officer in the office of the prosecutor Florence Olara who informed The Guardian quoted the Argentine prosecutor as saying that crimes against civilians would be investigated and prosecuted.

The warning came as Gaddafi yesterday vowed a 'long war' against the international military force that struck at his forces with airstrikes and dozens of cruise missiles that shook the Libyan capital with the sound of explosions and anti-aircraft fire.

Meanwhile, the African Union (AU), China and Russia have expressed regret over the multinational air strikes, saying that they opposed the use of force in international relations.

China and Russia were the most prominent voices in opposition to military action in Libya within the 15-member United Nations Security Council.

Ocampo, who is already investigating Gaddafi and his inner circle for possible war crimes, told reporters that the Libyan government must not attack civilians, and that there would be no imunity if such attacks took place.

Also, Catholic head, Pope Benedict XVI yesterday issued an urgent appeal to military and political leaders to consider the safety of Libyan civilians and ensure they have access to emergency aid in his first public comments on the conflict.

Benedict said the outbreak of hostilities had sparked 'great fear and alarm in me' and said he was praying for peace in the region.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Operation Odyssey Dawn, as the allied assault has been coded-named followed an emergency summit in Paris during which the 22 leaders and top officials agreed to do everything necessary to make Gaddafi respect a UN Security Council resolution last Thursday calling for the no-fly zone and demanding a cease-fire.

The AU's panel on Libya yesterday called for an 'immediate stop' to all attacks after the United States (U.S.) France and Britain launched military action against Gaddafi's forces.

After a more than four-hour meeting in the Mauritanian capital, the body also asked Libyan authorities to ensure 'humanitarian aid to those in need,' as well as the 'protection of foreigners, including African expatriates living in Libya.'

It underscored the need for 'necessary political reforms to eliminate the causes of the present crisis' but at the same time called for 'restraint' from the international community to avoid 'serious humanitarian consequences.'

The panel also announced a meeting in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on March 25, along with representatives from the Arab League, the Organisation of Islamic Conference, the European Union and the United Nations to 'put in place a mechanism for consultation and concerted action' to resolve the Libyan crisis.

The AU committee on Libya is composed of five African heads of state. But the Nouakchott meeting was only attended by the presidents of Mauritania, Mali and Congo. South Africa and Uganda were represented by ministers.

Also, Beijing expressed regret over the multinational air strikes, saying in a foreign ministry statement that it opposed the use of force in international relations.

'China has noted the latest developments in Libya and expresses regret over the military attacks on Libya,' the statement said.

Moscow in addition, issued a similarly worded statement in which it called for a ceasefire as soon as possible.

China's statement made no mention of a ceasefire and stressed that China respected the north African country's 'sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity.

'We hope Libya can restore stability as soon as possible and avoid further civilian casualties due to an escalation of armed conflict,' it added.

Libyan state television yesterday said 48 people died in the U.S. and European strikes, which marked the widest international military effort since the Iraq war and came as the rebels saw a month's worth of gains reversed by Gaddafi's overwhelming firepower.

In Benghazi, the rebel capital and first city to fall to the uprising that began Febuaryy 15, people said the strikes happened just in time. Libyan government tanks and troops had reached the edges of the city on Saturday.