As Libyan rebels are attacked again, world powers are still mulling a no-fly zone. Germany, the US and Russia remained cautious going into a G8 meeting on Libya, but Britain advocated arming the rebels.
Gadhafi loyalists continued their attacks on rebel-held positions on Monday with heavy shelling and air strikes. Government forces shelled the Libyan town of Ajdabiyah after sweeping east, rebels said. Air strikes were also reported from the area.
The lightly-armed rebels have been pushed back some 200 kilometres by superior forces in recent days, retreating from the coastal towns of Ras Lanuf and Brega in quick succession under shelling and air assaults.
Meanwhile France and Britain have stepped up their efforts to persuade world powers to impose a no-fly zone over Libya.
France, hosting a two-day G8 foreign ministers meeting which started on Monday, said it was consulting other powers to try to set up a no-fly zone to assure the protection of civilians "in the face of the terrible violence suffered by the Libyan population."
France said it would try to achieve agreement among the G8 on what action should be taken in Libya in order to speed up a UN Security Council decision on whether to impose a no-fly zone.
France has formally recognized the opposition national council as Libya's legitimate representatives and the European Union has agreed to talk to them.
Point of decision
Britain's foreign secretary, William Hague, said that Libya will face a "nightmare" if Gadhafi regains control. Hague added that the world is "reaching a point of decision" on whether to impose a no-fly zone. He also called on international powers to consider arming Libyan rebels to prevent Moammar Gadhafi's forces from crushing an insurrection.
Libyan rebels have been pushed back by Gadhafi forces
The Arab League's weekend call for a UN no-fly zone appeared to satisfy one of three conditions set by NATO for it to police Libyan air space, that of regional support. The other two are proof that its help is needed, and a UN Security Council resolution.
However, Germany, the United States and Russia remain skeptical about the imposition of a no-fly zone.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was due to met members of Libya's opposition national council in Paris ahead of the G8 talks. The White House had also said the Arab League had taken an "important step" by asking the UN Security Council to impose a no-fly zone over Libya and increasing international pressure on Gadhafi.
But while President Barack Obama has repeatedly called for Gadhafi to step down, Washington has not been willing to impose a no-fly zone unilaterally and has warned of the military difficulties such a decision would present. Instead the White House said the US will prepare for all contingencies and coordinate with allies.
Germany's Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on Sunday restated Berlin's reservations about the imposition of a no-fly zone. "I welcome the clear stand of the Arab League on the crimes of the Gadhafi regime," he told reporters. Westerwelle called on the UN Security Council to meet "as soon as possible to take a fresh look at the situation in Libya".
But Germany's top diplomat also noted that "many outstanding questions remain."
"We do not want to get involved in a civil war in North Africa," Westerwelle said, repeating Berlin's concern about the no-fly zone which he described as a "military action."
Germany is reluctant to support a no-fly zone
The Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday that his country wanted more information on the Arab League's call for a no-fly zone over Libya and that it would consider any proposal put before the UN Security Council. Russia, a veto-wielding permanent Security Council member, has said that military intervention in Libya was "unacceptable" but has not ruled out imposing a no-fly zone.
Moscow also slapped an entry ban Monday on Moammar Gadhafi and froze all financial operations involving the Libyan leader's family and top security aides involved in the violent crackdown on the opposition.
The foreign ministers of the G8 began their two-day event informally with the eight ministers meeting Nicolas Sarkozy at the presidential Elysee Palace.
Author: Michael Knigge (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)
Editor: Michael Lawton