Libyan army warns town of 'cleansing' operation

BENGHAZI, Libya — The Libyan army warned residents of the opposition-held city of Benghazi to flee rebel positions Wednesday ahead of a looming operation to "cleanse" the city of "armed gangs."

A statement issued via state TV gave the eastern city's inhabitants until midnight local time to heed the army's warning, Sky News reported.

The rebel bastion was offered a glimmer of hope hours after the deadline expired, however, when diplomats told AFP news service that members of the U.N. Security Council had finally reached agreement on the text of a draft resolution on Libya.

The 15-nation council is expected to vote today on the text that is thought to include proposals for the no-fly zone that rebel forces had been demanding to prevent further aerial bombardments from Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's air force.

Ibrahim Dabbashi, Libya's deputy ambassador to UN, had warned its members to expect "genocide" if they did not answer the opposition in its hour of need.

As Gadhafi's forces bore down on Benghazi Wednesday, the despot told Lebanese television he did not anticipate much of a fight. And in an interview with France's Le Figaro newspaper, the veteran leader boasted he could seize control of the city within a day if he wanted to.

He also raised the possibility of a military siege to flush rebels out of the city, which has an estimated population of 670,000.

"If we used force, it only takes one day," Gadhafi told the Paris-based daily. "But our goal is to progressively dismantle the armed groups, through various means, such as the encirclement of the city or sending mediators."

His comments echoed those of his son, Saif al Islam Gadhafi, who predicted that Benghazi would fall to government forces within 48 hours. Saif Gadhafi told French news channel Euronews that any military intervention decided upon in New York by the United Nations would come "too late."

With the international community still locked in talks Wednesday night, a message on state TV informed Benghazi's inhabitants of the imminent operation to "liberate" their city.

"The army is coming to cleanse your city of armed gangs," its said, according to British broadcaster Sky News. Residents were warned to leave areas occupied by rebels or used to store weapons by midnight local time.

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