GENEVA (Reuters) - The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said that as allied air strikes began on Libya, it was calling on all warring parties to spare civilians and respect international humanitarian law.
The Swiss-based agency, one of the few agencies deploying aid workers in Benghazi in the east, also called for safe passage for medical workers and ambulances to the wounded as Libyan forces battled rebels in the rebel-held town.
But it had no immediate information on casualties there as its aid workers had been confined to shelters due to bombing.
"As airstrikes in Libya by international forces begin, the ICRC calls upon all parties -- the international forces, the Libyan government forces, and the armed opposition -- to abide strictly by the rules and principles of international humanitarian law," it said in a statement.
"Attacks that directly target the civilian population are strictly prohibited by international humanitarian law," Yves Daccord, ICRC director-general said.
"That law also prohibits the use of human shields... The parties must take all precautions, including in their choice of means and methods of warfare, to avoid as far as possible harming civilians," he said.
Allied warplanes have gone into in action to stop Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's forces attacking Benghazi, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Saturday.
Gaddafi's troops on Saturday morning pushed into the outskirts of Benghazi, a city of 670,000 people, in an apparent attempt to pre-empt military intervention expected after a meeting of Western and Arab leaders in Paris.
The ICRC, an independent humanitarian agency, voiced concern about the intensification of fighting around heavily populated Libyan cities including Benghazi.
"We urge the parties to the conflict to allow humanitarian organizations safe access to war-affected areas and to enable medical personnel and ambulances to reach the wounded," Daccord said.
Combatants who surrender, are wounded, captured or no longer taking part in the hostilities should be treated humanely, the agency said.
Four ICRC aid workers returned on Friday to Benghazi, where they have been helping local doctors and hospitals, after withdrawing two days earlier due to insecurity.
But on Saturday they were forced to retreat to a shelter outside of city limits due to the bombardments, ICRC spokesman Steven Anderson told Reuters.
"They are ready to return as soon as the security situation permits," he said.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay)