French and British attack helicopters hit targets in Libya in the first use of such aircraft as part of the NATO-led campaign against the government of Moammar Gadhafi, authorities said Saturday.
The helicopters, including British Apaches firing Hellfire missiles and 30-millimeter cannon rounds, struck targets around Port Brega, a strategic oil port that is the easternmost city still under the control of Gadhafi's forces. The targets hit included a radar installation and a military checkpoint, officials said.
The helicopters flew from British and French ships in the Mediterranean and returned to the vessels afterward, authorities said. "This successful engagement demonstrates the unique capabilities brought to bear by attack helicopters," said Canadian air force Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard, NATO commander for the Libya mission.
The deployment of attack helicopters in Libya could represent a significant escalation of the 3-month-old conflict that pits rebels against forces loyal to Gadhafi, who has led the oil-rich nation for more than four decades. Rebels who first rose against Gadhafi in February now control most of eastern Libya, while Gadhafi remains in power in Tripoli and much of the west.
Syrian tanks took up positions outside the city of Hama on Saturday, where tens of thousands of people took to the streets to mourn the deaths of at least 65 protesters gunned down by security forces Friday. The government lifted its stranglehold on the Internet, which has been key to motivating people to join the 11-week uprising, but the crackdown that has left more than 1,200 dead since March did not relent: Troops killed at least six protesters in the northern town of Jisr al-Shughour, according to the Local Coordination Committees, which helps organize protests calling for the ouster of President Bashar Assad. Residents of Hama braced for a military assault that would be the first on the city since the government bombed it in 1982 to put down an uprising.
A former finance minister was sentenced in absentia to 30 years in prison for squandering public funds and abusing his authority, the state news agency said. Yousef Boutros-Ghali, a nephew of former U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, left Egypt during the uprising that forced out President Hosni Mubarak.
This report contains information from the Associated Press and New York Times.