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European governments send rescue missions to Libyan desert

By the CNN Wire Staff
Officials unload supplies from a RAF Hercules in Malta. British and German military planes have rescued hundreds of civilians in remote sites in Libya.
Officials unload supplies from a RAF Hercules in Malta. British and German military planes have rescued hundreds of civilians in remote sites in Libya.
  • NEW: Expect stronger calls for Gadhafi's exit as foreign nationals evacuate, says analyst
  • British prime minister: Military rescue operation was "the right thing to do"
  • Cameron acknowledges Britain did not have permission to enter Libyan airspace
  • German military mounted a similar rescue mission on Saturday

(CNN) -- British Prime Minister David Cameron says a military-led rescue mission into the Libyan desert was "the right thing to do," despite the fact that U.K. planes didn't have permission to enter Libyan airspace.

Three Royal Air Force C-130 Hercules aircraft successfully evacuated some 150 civilians of multiple nationalities from eastern Libya, according to a statement from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). The civilians were retrieved from multiple locations in the desert south of Benghazi, said Liam Fox, the secretary of state for defense. Another 150 civilians were flown out by British forces in similar missions mounted Saturday, according to previous statements from the FCO.

One plane was hit by small arms fire when it tried to land at an airstrip, according to a press officer with the Ministry of Defence, but the damage was superficial and the plane was able to continue. All three aircraft have arrived in Malta, the officer said.

At a news conference Sunday, Cameron celebrated the successful return of the three C-130s. "Good work has been done today," he said. "I pay tribute to the very brave pilots and armed services personnel who've managed to help so many British citizens back to safety."

Video testimonials from Libya
Gadhafi control wanes outside Tripoli
Libya: Stranded in Benghazi
Gadhafi's history of tension with the West

When questioned about the lack of permission for British craft to enter the skies over Libya, Cameron said, "Well, it is risky and difficult but I judged it was the right thing to do." The number of British citizens working on oil platforms in the eastern desert area meant the government had to take action to "get those people home," he said, adding, "It is difficult to arrange these things but it was the right thing to do."

The willingness to send military aircraft into Libyan airspace without permission could indicate that Western governments are growing increasingly impatient with Gadhafi, according to John Pike, the Director of, an independent provider of security information.

"I think all governments that had nationals in the country have had to walk a line. Now, the attitude is more 'let's get this over with,'" Pike told CNN, adding that he expected the rhetoric coming from Western governments to be more "forward-leaning about the urgency of Gadhafi's exit."

The U.S. government has issued stronger calls for Gadhafi to step down "now that American citizens appear to be out of the country," said Pike.

The U.K. wasn't the only Western government that sent aircraft this weekend to rescue its citizens.

Two German Air Force planes evacuated some 132 people -- dozens of the European Union citizens - from the Libyan desert Saturday, in a secret mission conducted by the military, according to a statement on the German Foreign Ministry's web page. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle thanked the German military for "decisive action," the ministry said, and expressed relief that the missions were successful.

CNN's Kim Hutcherson and Esprit Smith contributed to this report.