Image: A Libyan rebel fighter atop a truck scans the skies for fighter jets.
Gianluigi Guercia  /  AFP - Getty Images
A Libyan rebel fighter stands on top of a truck as he scans the sky for government jet fighters in Brega on Saturday.
updated 3/12/2011 2:47:49 PM ET 2011-03-12T19:47:49

The Arab League asked the U.N. Security Council Saturday to impose a no-fly zone over Libya to protect civilians from air attack by forces of Moammar Gadhafi's embattled government, giving crucial backing to a key demand of the rebel forces battling to oust the Libyan leader.

Foreign ministers from the 22-member Arab bloc, meeting in Cairo, also left the Libyan leader of more than 40 years increasingly isolated, declaring his government had "lost its sovereignty."

They also appeared to confer legitimacy on the rebel's interim government, the National Libyan Council, saying they would establish contacts with the umbrella group and calling on nations to provide it with "urgent help."

  1. Top stories: Turmoil in the Middle East
    1. UN: Gadhafi's food stocks to last just weeks
    2. S. African president: Gadhafi ready for truce
    3. Libyan rebels distribute rules on POW treatment
    4. Armed residents put up resistance to Syrian army
    5. Libyan rebels distribute rules on POW treatment

"The Arab League asks the United Nations to shoulder its responsibility ... to impose a no-fly zone over the movement of Libyan military planes and to create safe zones in the places vulnerable to airstrikes," said a league statement released after the emergency session.

League Secretary-General Amr Moussa stressed in remarks afterward that a no-fly zone was intended as a humanitarian measure to protect Libyan civilians and foreigners in the country and not as a military intervention.

That stance appeared meant to win over the deeply Arab nationalist government of Syria, which has smarted against foreign intervention into Arab affairs.

Video: Gadhafi forces pound rebels with heavy gunfire (on this page)

The Arab League cannot impose a no-fly zone itself. But the approval of the key regional Arab body gives the U.S. and other Western powers crucial regional backing they say they need before doing so. Many were wary that Western powers would be seen as intervening in the affairs of an Arab country if they began a no-fly zone without Arab approval.

Still, the Obama administration has said a no-fly zone may have limited impact, and the international community is divided over the issue.

Backing the rebels' political leadership, the league statement said it had faced "grievous violations and serious crimes by the Libyan authorities, which have lost their sovereignty."

The league's decision comes hours before the European Union's policy chief is set to arrive in Cairo to meet with the Arab bloc's leaders to discuss the situation in Libya.

Story: Al-Jazeera says cameraman killed in eastern Libya

Catherine Ashton said she hoped to discuss a "collaborative approach" with Arab League chief Moussa on Libya and the rest of the region.

Ashton said it was necessary to evaluate how effective economic sanctions imposed on Gadhafi's regime had been so far and that she was "keeping all options moving forward" regarding any additional measures.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle welcomed the EU's "very cautious" stance on possible military intervention.

"We do not want to be drawn into a war in north Africa — we should have learned from the events in and surrounding Iraq," Westerwelle said.

"It is very important that the impression doesn't arise that this is a conflict of the West against the Arab world or a Christian crusade against people of Muslim faith."

Al-Jazeera said Saturday that a cameraman for the pan-Arab satellite station had been killed near the eastern city of Benghazi.

It was the first death of a journalist since the Libyan uprising began Jan. 15.

The station identified the slain journalist as Ali Hassan al-Jaber but did not specify his nationality. It said he was killed in what it called an "armed ambush" on an Al-Jazeera crew in the Hawari area near Benghazi, which is the headquarters of the rebellion.

The station said a correspondent was also wounded. It did not say who it thought was behind the attack.

Gadhafi tightened his grip Saturday on the coastal road linking his territory to the rebel-controlled east, pushing forward the front line in Libya's grueling internal conflict and showing off control of devastated towns just seized from the opposition.

The Libyan government took reporters by plane and bus to the town of Bin Jawwad, the scene of brutal battles six days ago between insurgents and Gadhafi loyalists using artillery, rockets and helicopter gunships.

A police station was completely destroyed, its windows shattered, walls blackened and burned and broken furniture inside. A nearby school had gaping holes in the roof and a wall. Homes nearby were empty and cars were overturned or left as charred hulks in the road.

Rubble filled the streets and a sulphurous smell hung in the air.

The tour continued in Ras Lanouf, an oil port of boxy, sand-colored buildings with satellite dishes on top.

The area was silent and devoid of any sign of life, with laundry still fluttering on lines strung across balconies. About 50 soldiers or militia members in 10 white Toyota pickups, holding up portraits of Gadhafi, smeared with mud as camouflage guarded it. A playground was strewn with bullet casings and medical supplies looted from a nearby pharmacy whose doors had been shot open.

The defeat at Ras Lanouf, which had been captured by rebels a week ago and only fell after days of fierce fighting and shelling, was a major setback for opposition forces who just a week ago held the entire eastern half of the country and were charging toward the capital.

A massive column of black smoke billowed from Ras Lanouf's blazing oil refinery. A Libyan colonel asserted the rebels had detonated it as they retreated.

Gen. Abdel-Fattah Younis, the country's interior minister before defecting, told The Associated Press that Gadhafi's forces had driven deeper into rebel territory than at any time since the opposition seized control of the east.

He said they were about 50 miles (77 kilometers) past Ras Lanouf and about 25 miles (40 kilometers) outside Brega, the site of a major oil terminal.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Gadhafi forces pound rebels with heavy gunfire

  1. Closed captioning of: Gadhafi forces pound rebels with heavy gunfire

    >> fires are pushing further into the rebel controlled east and right now rebel forces are regrouping after being forced to retreat from the oil town, a key territory in the battle for the country and control of it. the rebels were pounded by sustained gun fire from both the sea and the air last night and pushed back some 12 1/ 2 miles by gadhafi 's regime. we'll go live on the phone to tripoli for the latest. the east was one of the strong areas for the rebels , at least in recent weeks.

    >> reporter: that's right, richard. the name of a number of cities we heard in the east that the rebels had taken, those were -- the rebels were moving west. we're now hearing those same towns and cities but it's as the pro- gadhafi forces are moving back east and taking them. we've heard now that the pro- gadhafi forces, the front line essentially pushed it even further east and now their next target is going to be brega, another very important oil port, which is on the north african coast. and like you said, it comes out to fire power . right now the rebels are being out gunned. clearly, they have almost no planes or war ships like the pro- gadhafi forces. not only in the east but there have also been two key cities in the west with sort of within gadhafi -controlled territory which we were hearing a lot about last week. zawia already fallen back into gadhafi hands. two weeks ago the center full of anti- gadhafi protesters and is now covered in green, the green flag of libya, and full of pro- gadhafi supporters and we're hearing reports today that the other city in the east was also come under pro- gadhafi fire, that they're attacking the city and we wait to see if that is also going to fall back into pro- gadhafi forces. right now the rebels are trying to regroup but they're simply being out gunned.

    >> you really hit an important point that has been debated within recent days and that's the issue of air power . gadhafi 's forces, we talk about air force , ten, 20,000, and the numbers, this really leaves the rebels at a disadvantage. what has been the debate there on a no fly zone and how important it is to those rebel forces?

    >> absolutely. there's ban debate going both ways. how much of a difference it'll make considering the fact that pro gadhafi forces also have so much more land fire -- land power in terms of the troops. but the no fly zone could still make a difference with the air power and today the arab league passed a resolution saying they would call on the u.n. security council to pass a no fly zone. this could help some in the west who were trying to push a no fly zone forward but they don't want it to be seen as a west versus the arab world type of scenario.

    >> right.

    >> so with the arab league onboard that could get some people who want to get a no fly zone passed a little more momentum but with russia and china already saying they're against it, the chance of this passing at least in the near future seems to be pretty slim which doesn't look good for the rebels . richard?

    >> yeah. the importance of a coalition pushing fora no fly zone, that continues to be debated. so important for the rebels at least from their perspective. watching the very latest as pro- gadhafi forces push into what was a strong hold

Photos: Libya's uprising against Gadhafi

loading photos...
  1. People gathering in Benghazi, Libya in mid-February of 2011 as protest against the rule of Moammar Gadhafi grew, in part triggered by the arrest of human rights activist Fethi Tarbel. EDITOR'S NOTE: The content, date and location of this image could not be independently verified. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Buildings at the entrance to a security forces compound burn in Benghazi, Feb. 21, 2011. Libyan protesters celebrated in the streets of Benghazi, claiming control of the country's second largest city after bloody fighting, and anti-government unrest spread to the capital with clashes in Tripoli's main square for the first time. (Alaguri / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi speaks on state television. Feb. 22, and signalled his defiance over a mounting revolt against his 41-year rule. (Libya TV via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Libyan U.N. ambassador Shalgham is embraced by Dabbashi, Libya's deputy U.N. Ambassador after denouncing Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi for the first time during a Security Council meeting at the headquarters of the United Nations in New York on Feb. 25. Shalgam, a longtime friend and member of Gadhafi's inner circle, had previously refused to denounce Gadhafi. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Thousands of Libyans gather for the Muslim Friday prayers outside the courthouse in the eastern city of Benghazi on Feb. 25, 2011. Perhaps 8,000 people gathered for the midday prayers with a local imam, who delivered his sermon alongside the coffins of three men killed in the violent uprising that routed Gadhafi loyalists from Benghazi. (Gianluigi Guercia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Rebels hold a young man at gunpoint, who they accuse of being a loyalist to Gadhafi, between the towns of Brega and Ras Lanuf, March 3, 2011. (Goran Tomasevic / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Pro-Gadhafi soldiers and supporters gather in Green Square in Tripoli, March 6, 2011. Thousands of Moammar Gadhafi's supporters poured into the streets of Tripoli, waving flags and firing their guns in the air in the Libyan leader's main stronghold, claiming overnight military successes. (Ben Curtis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Rebel fighters jump away from shrapnel during heavy shelling by forces loyal to Gadhafi near Bin Jawad, March 6. Rebels in east Libya regrouped and advanced on Bin Jawad after Gadhafi forces ambushed rebel fighters and ejected them from the town earlier in the day. (Goran Tomasevic / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Libyan rebel fighters take cover as a bomb dropped by an airforce fighter jet explodes near a checkpoint on the outskirts of the oil town of Ras Lanuf on March 7, 2011. (Marco Longari / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Libyan rebels fire rockets at government troops on the frontline. March 9, 2011 near Ras Lanuf. The rebels pushed back government troops westward towards Ben Jawat. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Libyan government soldiers aboard tanks at the west gate of the town Ajdabiyah March 16, 2011. Libya's army pounded an opposition-held city in the country's west and battled fighters trying to block its advance on a rebel bastion in the east amid flagging diplomatic efforts to end the bloodshed. EDITOR'S NOTE: Picture taken on a government guided tour. (Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Libyan people in Benghazi celebrate after the United Nations Security Council authorized a no-fly zone over Libya, March 18. Thousands of Libyans erupted in cheers as the news flashed on a giant screen in besieged Benghazi late March 17. After weeks of discussion, the UN Security Council banned flights in Libya's airspace and authorized "all necessary means" to implement the ban, triggering intervention by individual countries and organizations like NATO. (EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A picture combo shows a Libyan jet bomber crashing after being apparently shot down in Benghazi on March 19, 2011 as the Libyan rebel stronghold came under attack. Air strikes and sustained shelling of the city's south sent thick smoke into the sky. (Patrick Baz / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Residents of Benghazi flee the city along the road toward Tobruk, in an attempt to escape fighting in their city, March 19, 2011. Gaddafi's troops pushed into the outskirts of Benghazi, a city of 670,000 people, in an apparent attempt to pre-empt Western military intervention expected after a meeting of Western and Arab leaders in Paris. (Reuters TV) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Vehicles belonging to forces loyal to Gadhafi explode after an air strike by coalition forces, along a road between Benghazi and Ajdabiyah March 20, 2011. (Goran Tomasevic / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. A rebel fighter carries his weapon outside the northeastern Libyan town of Ajdabiyah, March 21, 2011. A wave of air strikes hit Gaddafi's troops around Ajdabiyah, a strategic town in the barren, scrub of eastern Libya that rebels aim to retake and where their fighters said they need more help. (Finbarr O'reilly / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. A Libyan rebel prays next to his gun on the frontline of the outskirts of the city of Ajdabiya, south of Benghazi, March 21, 2011. The international military intervention in Libya is likely to last "a while," a top French official said, echoing Moammar Gadhafi's warning of a long war ahead as rebels, energized by the strikes on their opponents. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Libyan rebels retreat as mortars from Gadhafi's forces are fired on them near the outskirts of the city of Ajdabiya, March 22, 2011. Coalition forces bombarded Libya for a third straight night, targeting the air defenses and forces of Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi, stopping his advances and handing some momentum back to the rebels, who were on the verge of defeat. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. A Libyan man is comforted by hospital staff as he reacts after identifying his killed brother in the morgue of the Jalaa hospital in Benghazi, March 22, 2011. His brother was killed earlier in fighting around the city of Ajdabiya. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Volunteer fighters training at a rebel army training camp in Benghazi, March 29, 2011. Pro-government forces intensified their attacks on Libyan rebels, driving them back over ground they had taken in recent days. The rebels had reached Nawfaliya, but pulled back to Bin Jawad. (Manu Brabo / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Smoke billows as seven explosions were reported in the tightly-guarded residence of leader Moammar Gadhafi and military targets in the suburb of Tajura. Two explosions also rocked the Libyan capital Tripoli on March 29, 2011, as NATO-led coalition aircraft had been seen in the skies over the capital. (Mahmud Turkia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. A Libyan rebel urges people to leave, as shelling from Gadhafi's forces started landing on the frontline outside of Bin Jawaad, 93 miles east of Sirte, March 29, 2011. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. General Abdel-Fattah Younis, former interior minister in the Gadhafi regime who defected in the early days of the uprising, is greeted by Libyan rebels at the front line near Brega, April 1, 2011. (Altaf Qadri / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Libyan men show the V-sign for victory as they stand on the deck of a Turkish ship arriving from Misrata to the port of Benghazi who were evacuated along with others the injured in the fighting between rebel and Gadhafi forces, April 03, 2011. The Turkish vessel took hundreds of people wounded in the Libyan uprising for treatment in Turkey from the two cities of Misrata and Benghazi. (Mahmud Hams / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. A wounded prisoner from Gadhafi's forces is transported in the back of a pickup truck by rebels, on the way to a hospital for treatment, half way between Brega and Ajdabiya, April 9, 2011. Rebels say they took two prisoners after a clash with soldiers near Brega's university outside the government-controlled oil facilities, marking a noticeable advance by rebels. (Ben Curtis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. In this image taken from TV, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi makes a pubic appearance in Tripoli, April 14 2011. Gadhafi defiantly waved at his supporters while being driven around Tripoli while standing up through the sunroof of a car. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. A rebel fighter celebrates as his comrades fire a rocket barrage toward the positions of government troops April 14, 2011, west of Ajdabiyah. (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Gadhafi supporters hold copies of his portrait as they gather at the Bab Al Azizia compound in Tripoli, April 15, 2011. Rebels held much of eastern Libya by mid-April, while Gadhafi controlled the west, with the front line shifting back and forth in the middle. (Pier Paolo Cito / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Doctors work on a baby who suffered cuts from shrapnel that blasted through the window of his home during fighting in the besieged city of Misrata, April 18, 2011. Thousands of civilians are trapped in Misrata as fighting continues between Libyan government forces that have surrounded the city and anti-government rebels there. The Libyan government has come under international criticism for using heavy weapons and artillery in its assault on Misrata. (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. MISRATA, LIBYA - APRIL 20: Libyan rebel fighters discuss how to dislodge some ensconced government loyalist troops who were firing on them from the next room during house-to-house fighting on Tripoli Street in downtown Misrata April 20, 2011 in Misrata, Libya. Rebel forces assaulted the downtown positions of troops loyal to Libyan strongman Moammar Gaddafi April 20, briefly forcing them back over a key bridge and trapping several in a building that fought back instead of surrendering, firing on the rebels in the building and seriously wounding two of them during the standoff. Fighting continues between Libyan government forces that have surrounded the city and anti-government rebels ensconced there. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images) (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Libyan rebel fighters carry out a comrade wounded during an effort to dislodge some ensconced government loyalist troops who were firing on them from a building during house-to-house fighting on Tripoli Street in downtown Misrata April 20, 2011. Rebel forces assaulted the downtown positions of troops loyal to Gaddafi, briefly forcing them back over a key bridge and trapping several in a building where they fought back instead of surrendering. Two rebels were seriously wounded during the standoff. (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Rebels tread carefully as they prepare to invade a house where soldiers from the pro-government forces had their base in the Zwabi area of Misrata on April 24, 2011. (Andre Liohn / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Libyans inspect damage and an unexploded missile at the Gadhafi family compound in a residential area of Tripoli, May 1, 2011. Gadhafi escaped a NATO missile strike in Tripoli that killed one of his sons and three young grandchildren. EDITOR'S NOTE: Photo taken on a government guided tour. (Darko Bandic / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Moammar Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, center, leaves the funeral of his brother Saif Al-Arab Gadhafi, who was killed during air strikes by coalition forces, at the El Hani cemetery in Tripoli, May 2, 2011. Crowds chanting Gadhafi's name gathered in Tripoli for the funeral of his son and three grandchildren. (Louafi Larbi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Fleeing migrants and Libyans are seen on board an International Organization of Migration ship leaving the port of Misrata on May 4, 2011, as Gadhafi forces continued to pound the city. (Christophe Simon / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Libyan men watch as the main fuel depot in Libya's third largest city, Misrata, burns following a bombing by Gadhafi's forces on May 7, 2011. Libyan regime forces shelled fuel depots in Misrata and dropped mines into its harbor using helicopters bearing the Red Cross emblem, rebels said as they braced for a ground assault. (Ricardo Garcia Vilanova / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Libyan rebels celebrate near the airport of Misrata on May 11, 2011 after capturing the city's strategic airport following a fierce battle with Moammar Gadhafi's troops -- their first significant advance in weeks. (Ricardo Garcia Vilanova / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Women react after a protest against Moammar Gadhafi's regime in Benghazi, Libya, on May 16, 2011. Luis Moreno-Ocampo, prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, announced that he would seek arrest warrants against the leader of Libya, Moammar Gadhafi, his son Seif al-Islam and the country's intelligence chief on charges of crimes against humanity. (Rodrigo Abd / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Tripoli street in Misrata is seen from the terrace of a building used by Gadhafi’s snipers before the rebels took control of the area on May 22, 2011. The weeks-long siege of the city ended in mid-May and Tripoli Street was the site of the fiercest fighting in the battle and a turnin point in the war. (Rodrigo Abd / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. A rebel fighter gives water to a soldier loyal to Gadhafi after he was wounded and then captured near the front line, west of Misrata on May 23, 2011. (Rodrigo Abd / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. An uncle, left, prays over the body of one and a half year-old Mohsen Ali al-Sheikh during a washing ritual during the funeral at his family's house in Misrata, May 27, 2011. The child was killed by a gunshot during clashes between rebels and pro-Gadhafi forces earlier in the day. (Wissam Saleh / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. The body of a drowned refugee floats near a capsized ship which was transporting an estimated 850 refugees from Libya, approximately 22 miles north of the Tunisian islands of Kerkennah, June 4, 2011. At least 578 survived the sinking. (Lindsay Mackenzie / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. A photograph taken from a video by a National Transitional Council (NTC) fighter shows Mutassem Gadhafi, son of Moammar Gadhafi, drinking water and smoking a cigarette following his capture and shortly before his death, in Sirte, Oct. 20, 2011. (- / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. A photograph taken from mobile phone video of a National Transitional Council (NTC) fighter shows the capture of Moammar Gadhafi in Sirte on Oct. 20, 2011. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. This image provided by the Libyan Youth Group on Nov. 19, 2011, shows Seif al-Islam Gadhafi after he was captured near the Niger border with Libya. Moammar Gadhafi's son, the only wanted member of the ousted ruling family to remain at large, was captured as he traveled with aides in a convoy in Libya's southern desert. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  1. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  2. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  3. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  4. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  1. Image: A photo said to show people gathering during recent days' unrest in Benghazi, Libya. The content, date and location of the image could not be independently verified.
    AP
    Above: Slideshow (81) Conflict in Libya
  2. Image: TO GO WITH AFP PACKAGE ON THE 40TH ANNIV
    AFP - Getty Images
    Slideshow (34) Moammar Gadhafi through the years

Interactive: Libya uprising: The latest

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments