Image: Rebels in Ajdabiyah
Goran Tomasevic  /  Reuters
Anti-Gadhafi forces secure a munitions storage hangar at a military base Tuesday in Ajdabiyah, a city where a rebel officer said plans are being made to go on the offensive.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 3/1/2011 9:32:56 PM ET 2011-03-02T02:32:56

Libyan rebels are debating whether to ask for United Nation's airstrikes against leader Moammar Gadhafi's military assets, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

The development was reported as the U.S. Senate called on the U.N. to enforce a "no-fly" zone over Libya and the Pentagon moved two Navy amphibious warships into the Mediterranean Sea, along with an extra 400 Marines, in case they are needed to evacuate civilians or provide humanitarian relief.

The Libyan sources told the Times the revolutionary council is drawing a distinction between airstrikes and foreign intervention, which they oppose.

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“If it is with the United Nations, it is not a foreign intervention,” Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga, the council’s spokesman, told the Times.

Gadhafi already accuses Western powers of fomenting the uprising, so any action by the U.N. or individual nations carries risks, the Times said.

“If he falls with no intervention, I’d be happy,” said one senior council official said of Gadhafi. “But if he’s going to commit a massacre, my priority is to save my people.”

The U.N. Security Council would have to approve any "no-fly" zone requests, but Russia and China appear cool to intervention, the Times said.

The strikes would be limited to Gadhafi's stronghold south of Tripoli, Bab al-Aziziya, and installations like radar stations, sources told the Times.

At a Pentagon news conference Tuesday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said American military intervention in Libya is unlikely, but he did not rule out other options, such as providing air cover for Libyan rebels.

'Range of options'
Asked specifically about establishing a "no-fly" zone over Libya, Gates said military actions "have their own consequences" for U.S. interests, not just in Libya but throughout the greater Middle East.

"We also have to think about, frankly, the use of the U.S. military in another country in the Middle East," Gates added, referring to the long war in Iraq and its backlash in the Arab world. "So I think we're sensitive about all of these things, but we will provide the president with a full range of options."

The Senate, in passing the "no-fly" resolution, condemned the "gross and systematic violations of human rights in Libya" and demanded that Gadhafi leave office.

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Also Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that Libya is at risk of collapsing into a "protracted civil war." amid increasingly violent clashes with anti-government rebels.

"The stakes are high," she told the Foreign Affairs Committee in the House of Representatives.

The United States must lead an international response to the crisis, including expanding already tough financial and travel sanctions against Gadhafi, his family and confidants and possibly imposing a "no-fly" zone over Libya, she said.

As she spoke, Gadhafi and forces still loyal to him sought to protect their remaining strongholds in and around Tripoli and take back rebel-held areas in eastern Libya.

Clinton said U.S. officials were aware that defecting military officers were attempting to organize fighters to defend areas they hold and "even try to take Tripoli away from Col. Gadhafi." Gates, however, said the United States has an incomplete picture of the rebels' potential for prevailing on their own. Nor was it clear how many civilians have died, he added.

Earlier, a Libyan rebel officer said army units that have rebelled against Gadhafi are organizing under a unified council to launch an attack against forces still loyal to the leader.

"All the military councils of Free Libya are meeting to form a unified military council to plan an attack on Gadhafi security units, militias and mercenaries," Capt. Faris Zwei told journalists at a military base in Ajdabiyah.

But he also said the rebels were waiting for Gadhafi opponents in the capital Tripoli and other cities to "free" themselves. "We will give them time to have this honor," he said at the base in the east, which is under rebel control.

"We want to give every city the honor of freeing itself. If this is delayed, we will intervene," he said.

In Zawiya, another rebel-held city and the closest to Tripoli, residents earlier Tuesday passed out sweets and cold drinks to fighters and celebrated with a victory march after they managed to repel an overnight attack by forces loyal to Gadhafi.

"Allahu Akbar (God is Great) for our victory," residents of Zawiya chanted as they paraded through the city's main square.

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They carried on their shoulders an air force colonel they said had just defected to the rebels' side.

Witnesses said pro-Gadhafi forces battled rebels for six hours overnight but could not retake control of the city 30 miles west of Tripoli.

They said the last of several assaults by the Gadhafi loyalists came at around 3 a.m. local time.

Residents said they killed 10 pro-Gadhafi soldiers and captured about a dozen others without suffering any casualties of their own, The New York Times reported. A government spokesman confirmed the death toll, the Times said.

"We will not give up Zawiya at any price," said one witness. "We know it is significant strategically. They will fight to get it, but we will not give up. We managed to defeat them because our spirits are high and their spirits are zero."

The witnesses in Zawiya said youths from the city were stationed on the rooftops of high-rise buildings to monitor the movements of the pro-Gadhafi forces and sound the warning if they thought an attack was imminent. They also spoke about generous offers of cash by the regime for the rebels to hand control of the city back to authorities.

Since the revolt against Gadhafi's 41-year-old rule began two weeks ago, his regime has launched the harshest crackdown in the Arab world, where authoritarian rulers are facing an unprecedented wave of uprisings.

Gadhafi has already lost control of the eastern half of the country and at least two cities close to the capital — Zawiya and Misrata. He still holds the capital Tripoli and other nearby cities.

A refugee crisis
The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR says more than 110,000 people, mainly foreign migrants, have fled Libya to neighboring countries and thousands more are arriving at the borders .

Tunisian border guards fired into the air Tuesday to try to control a crowd clamoring to get through a border crossing.

Meanwhile, about 30 more U.S. citizens who are still in Libya have contacted the State Department for help in their evacuation, State Department spokesperson P.J. Crowley said on Tuesday.

International pressure to end the crackdown has escalated dramatically in the past few days.

France said it would fly aid to the opposition-controlled eastern half of the country.

The European Union imposed an arms embargo and other sanctions, following the lead of the U.S. and the U.N.

On Tuesday, the U.N. General Assembly unanimously suspended Libya's membership in the U.N. Human Rights Council because of violence by Libyan forces against protesters. The panel is investigating human rights abuses in Libya.

Protracted civil war?


The U.S. and Europe were freezing billions in Libya's foreign assets.

"We are going to squeeze him economically in conjunction with the rest of the international community," U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice said on NBC's TODAY Show. "We're going to squeeze him militarily ... We are looking at every way to limit Gadhafi's ability to rearm and supply himself with military means as well as financially to reduce his ability to continue to attack his people."

Rice added that the U.S. is prepared to provide humanitarian assistance if called upon.

British Prime Minister David Cameron told lawmakers: "We do not in any way rule out the use of military assets" to deal with Gadhafi's regime.

In Moscow, a Kremlin source suggested Gadhafi should step down, calling him a "living political corpse who has no place in the modern civilized world," Interfax news agency reported.

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Gadhafi, in an interview with ABC News at a seafront restaurant in Tripoli on Monday, laughed off a question about whether he would step down.

"They love me. All my people with me, they love me," he said. "They will die to protect me, my people." Gadhafi invited the U.N. or any other organization to Libya on a fact-finding mission, ABC reported.

He denied using his air force to attack protesters but said planes had bombed military sites and ammunition depots.

Rice: Gadhafi sounds 'delusional'
Gadhafi's remarks were met with derision in Washington.

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"Any time you have someone who laughs with American and international journalists while slaughtering his own people, I think they are not only delusional, one has to begin to question their grip on reality," Rice said Tuesday on The TODAY Show . 

"I think we have to assume we are dealing with somebody who is no longer — if ever was — fit to lead his nation and whose behavior is unpredictable and irrational," she added.

In an interview with the U.K.'s Sky News, Gadhafi's son Saif said Rice was "unfit to comment on Libya" as she was not Libyan.

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He refused to accept the regime had lost control of eastern Libya and described the rebels in Zawiya as "terrorists," according to Sky News.

Gadhafi added that it was "not acceptable" for any other country to use force against Libya, but added "we are not afraid."

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: Gadhafi, Libyan rebels prepare for war

  1. Closed captioning of: Gadhafi, Libyan rebels prepare for war

    >>> now we turn to the battle for control that continues raging in libya . last night here we reported the u.s. was considering a range of options, including military enforcement of a no-fly zone. today defense secretary robert gates appeared to be saying not so fast. the quote was, all options are on the table but he made it clear u.s. military intervention in libya is unlikely. there are two u.s. navy ships approaching the coast of libya . secretary gates says they're there to help with a possible humanitarian mission. nbc's jim maceda is inside libya again tonight, in tripoli . jim , good evening.

    >> reporter: good evening, brian. moammar gadhafi may be losing grip on power, but not his defiance. his people are bracing for the worst. preparing for war. a short drive outside tripoli and one sees the gauntlet close up, hundreds of tanks have turned the city of 2 million into a fortress. it's fast becoming libyan leader moammar gadhafi 's last strong hold. less than 30 miles away in the rebel held town of zawiywa, they faced down a troop of tanks and won. but gadhafi's son took the setback in stride.

    >> if you have one or two or three thousand demonstrators, it doesn't mean everything is done, it's over.

    >> reporter: both sides are fighting to win a war of words and images. in benghazi, international news cameras were brought to see rebel fighters training volunteers, and keeping their heavy weapons ready for battle.

    >> all people here are one heart. and they believe in one libya .

    >> reporter: and a government press tour visits wounded pro-gadhafi fighters in a tripoli hospital. and takes in a pro-government demonstration. meanwhile, the fighting has triggered a humanitarian crisis . more fan 100,000, mostly migrant workers , have fled into tunisia, overwhelming aide workers there. some simply pass out from hunger and thirst, disease is spreading. the unlucky ones never leave this makeshift camp. the thousands of weak, wounded and frightened are losing hope.

    >> these are just some of the thousands of people who say they're stuck between a rock and a hard place . the libyan government can't get them out, their own governments haven't sent in evacuation flights either.

    >> reporter: abandoned and facing the prospect of war. tonight, rumors are flying around the capital that rebel forces will attack here friday after prayers, but for many here, it's made uncertain times even more terrifying.

    >> jim maceda in tripoli tonight. jim , thanks.

Photos: Moammar Gadhafi

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  1. Col. Moammar Gadhafi is seen in Tripoli on Sept. 27, 1969, after leading a military coup that toppled King Idris. Gadhafi has maintained his rule over Libya for more than four decades since the coup. Gadhafi was killed in Sirte on Oct. 20 as revolutionary forces took the last bastion of his supporters. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Gadhafi, left, and Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser, right, arrive in Rabat, Morocco, in December 1969 for the Arab Summit Conference. (Benghabit / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Col. Gadhafi, left, jokes with a group of British hippies in Tripoli in July 1973. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Gadhafi was purportedly a major financier of the Black September movement, a band of Palestinian militants. Its members perpetrated the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. One of the Black September guerrillas who broke into the Olympic Village is seen in this picture. (Keystone via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Gadhafi during the summit of the Organization of African Unity on Aug. 4, 1975, in Kampala, Uganda. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Flowers are laid at the memorial to Yvonne Fletcher, a British police constable who was shot dead by terrorists in April 1984 while on duty during a protest outside the Libyan embassy in London. Fletcher's death led to an 11-day police siege of the embassy and a breakdown of diplomatic relations between Libya and the United Kingdom. (Fox Photos via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Gadhafi and his second wife Safiya wave to the crowd upon their arrival in Dakar, Senegal, for a three-day official visit on Dec. 3, 1985. Gadhafi has eight biological children, six by Safiya. (Joel Robine / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. U.S. Ambassador to West Germany Richard Burt, fourth from left, and West Berlin Mayor Eberhard Diepgen, fifth from left, inspect the damage following an April 5, 1986, bombing at a Berlin discotheque frequented by American serveicemen. Libya was blamed for the blast, which killed three and injured more than 200. Then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan retaliated by ordering airstrikes against the Libyan capital of Tripoli and city of Benghazi. (Wolfgang Mrotzkowski / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. French policemen and army soldiers unload crates of arms and ammunition seized aboard the Panamian merchant ship Eksund on Nov. 3, 1987 at Brest military port in France. A huge supply of arms and explosives purportedly supplied by Libya and destined for the Irish Republican Army was found aboard the vessel. (Andre Durand / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. This Dec. 22, 1988, photo shows the wreckage of the Pan Am airliner that exploded and crashed over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people - most of them Americans. Gadhafi has accepted Libya's responsibility for the bombing and paid compensation to the victims' families. Libya's ex-justice minister was recently quoted as telling a Swedish newspaper that Gadhafi personally ordered the bombing. (Letkey / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, right, welcomes Gadhafi upon his arrival at Tunis airport on Jan. 10, 1990. (Frederic Neema / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi is escorted by security officers in Tripoli on Feb. 18, 1992. Al-Megrahi was granted a compassionate release from a Scottish prison in August 2009 on the grounds that he was suffering from prostate cancer and would die soon. (Manoocher Deghati / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, left, accompanies Gadhafi on a tour at the pyramids of Giza on Jan. 19, 1993. (Aladin Abdel Naby / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. An Egyptian border policeman counts passports belonging to Palestinians waiting at the post in Salloum for transit to the Gaza Strip on Sept. 12, 1995. Families were stranded at the border with Libya after Gadhafi decided to expel 30.000 Palestinians, reportedly in order to call attention to the political situation in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. (Amr Nabil / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Libyan women bodyguards provide security for VIPs during a military parade in Green Square on Sept. 1, 2003, to mark the 34th anniversary of Gadhafi's acension to power. (Mike Nelson / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Family members of people killed in the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, read documents on Sept. 12, 2003, as the U.N. Security Council votes to lift sanctions against Libya for the 1988 bombing. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, left, flew to Libya in 2004 to hold talks with Gadhafi inside a Bedouin tent. Here, Blair and and Gadhafi stroll to a separate tent in Tripoli for lunch during a break in their talks. Blair's role was particularly vital in Gadhafi's international rehabilitation. He praised the leader for ending Libya's nuclear and chemical weapons program and stressed the need for new security alliances in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks. (Stefan Rousseau / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. U.S. President George W. Bush looks at material and equipment surrendered by Libya, during a tour of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee on July 12, 2004. Bush officially lifted the U.S. trade embargo against Libya on Sept. 20, 2004. (Tim Sloan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. View of the remains of Gadhafi's bombed-out headquarters, now turned into a living memento, inside his compound in Tripoli on Oct. 15, 2004. The sculpture in the center represents a golden fist grabbing a U.S. jet fighter. U.S. jets bombed Tripoli, killing Gadhafi's adopted 4-year-old daughter, in April 1986 in retaliation for the Berlin discotheque bombing. (John Macdougall / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. French President Nicolas Sarkozy is welcomed by Gadhafi in Tripoli on July 25, 2007. Sarkozy arrived for a meeting with the Libyan leader a day after the release of six foreign medics from a Libyan prison. (Patrick Kovarik / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Gadhafi's son Saif, center, attends a ceremony in the southern Libyan city of Ghiryan on Aug. 18, 2007, to mark the arrival of water from the Great Manmade River, a project to pipe water from desert wells to coastal communities. (Mahmud Turkia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Gadhafi looks at a Russian-language edition of his book "The Green Book" during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on April 17, 2008, in Tripoli. Putin was in Libya for a two-day visit to rebuild Russian-Libyan relations. (Artyom Korotayev / Epsilon via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Gadhafi and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi pose for a picture after signing an agreement in the eastern city of Benghazi on Libya's Mediterranean coast on Aug. 30, 2008. Berlusconi apologized to Libya for damage inflicted by Italy during the colonial era and signed a $5 billion investment deal by way of compensation. (Mahmud Turkia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Gadhafi poses with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice prior to a meeting in Tripoli on Sept. 5, 2008. Rice arrived in Libya on the first such visit in more than half a century, marking a new chapter in Washington's reconciliation with the former enemy state. (Mahmud Turkia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Gadhafi attends the closing session of the Arab League summit in Doha, Qatar, on March 30, 2009. (Marwan Naamani / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Gadhafi waves after delivering a speech during a meeting with 700 women from the business, political and cultural spheres on June 12, 2009, in Rome. The Libyan strongman drew cheers and jeers when he criticized Islam's treatment of women but then suggested it should be up to male relatives to decide if a woman can drive. (Christophe Simon / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. U.S .President Barack Obama shakes hands with Gadhafi during the G-8 summit in L'Aquila, Italy, on July 9, 2009. (Michael Gottschalk / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Libyan Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, who was found guilty of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, top left, is accompanied by Seif al-Islam el-Gadhafi, son of the Libyan leader, upon his arrival at the airport in Tripoli on Aug. 20, 2009. Scotland freed the terminally ill Lockerbie bomber on compassionate grounds, allowing him to die at home in Libya despite American protests that he should be shown no mercy. (Amr Nabil / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. The president of the U.N. General Assembly, Ali Abdussalam Treki, top center, listens in apparent misery as Gadhafi speaks on Sept. 23, 2009, at U.N. headquarters in New York. It was Gadhafi's first appearance before the U.N., and he emptied out much of the chamber with an exhaustive 95-minute speech in which he criticized the decision-making structure of the world body and called for investigations of all the wars and assassinations that have taken place since the U.N.'s founding. (Stan Honda / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Gadhafi greets Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez during the plenary session at the Africa-South America Summit on Margarita Island on Sept. 27, 2009. Chavez and Gadhafi urged African and South American leaders to strive for a new world order countering Western economic dominance. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, Gadhafi and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak during a group picture of Arab and African leaders ahead of the opening of the second Arab-African summit in the coastal town of Sirte, Libya, on Oct. 10, 2010. Ben Ali and Mubarak were driven out of power by popular revolts in 2011. (Sabri Elmehedwi / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Gadhafi is followed by members of the press in Tripoli before making a speech hoping to defuse tensions on March 2. Gadhafi blamed al-Qaida for creating turmoil and told applauding supporters there was a conspiracy to control Libya and its oil. (Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Libyan rebels step on a picture of Gadhafi at a checkpoint in Tripoli's Qarqarsh district on Aug. 22. Libyan government tanks and snipers put up a scattered, last-ditch effort in Tripoli on Monday after rebels swept into the heart of the capital, cheered on by crowds hailing the end of Gadhafi's 42 years in power. (Bob Strong / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. A man in Tripoli holds a photo said to be of Moammar Gadhafi after the announcement of the former leader's death, Oct. 20, 2011. Gadhafi was killed when revolutionary forces overwhelmed his hometown, Sirte, the last major bastion of resistance two months after the regime fell. (Abdel Magid Al-fergany / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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    Above: Slideshow (34) Moammar Gadhafi through the years
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    Slideshow (81) Conflict in Libya

Timeline: Recent Middle East unrest

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