Allies To Step Up Military Pressure On Libya

France and UK agree to increase military operations against Gaddafi's regime ahead of NATO strategy meeting in Germany.

Libyan rebel fighters on Tripoli Street in Misrata. Photograph: Michel Moutot

France and Britain have agreed to step up military pressure on Muammar Gaddafi's regime after world powers meeting in Doha promised Libyan rebels cash and the means to defend themselves.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, and David Cameron, the British prime minister, agreed on a heightened military pressure against Gaddafi during a working dinner in Paris on Wednesday, according to a source in the French presidency.

Their meeting came just ahead of a NATO foreign ministers gathering in Berlin on Thursday.

"All means must be made available" in the fight against Gaddafi , the source said, amid efforts by London and Paris to exert more pressure on their NATO allies to help defeat the Libyan regime.

Cameron said he will "leave no stone unturned, militarily, diplomatically, politically, to enforce the UN resolution, to put real pressure on Gaddafi and to stop the appalling murder of civilians that he is still carrying out as you've shown on our television screens in Misurata and elsewhere in Libya".

The diplomatic moves come amid rising friction within the alliance over a NATO air campaign in Libya that has so far failed to change the balance of power on the ground.

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, who arrived in Berlin for the meetings on Thursday and Friday, issued a statement denouncing what she said were continuing attacks on civilians by Gaddafi's forces.

"In recent days, we have received disturbing reports of renewed atrocities conducted by Gaddafi's forces," she said.

Meanwhile in Tripoli, Khaled Kaim, the Libyan deputy foreign minister, charged that elements of the Lebanese group Hezbollah were fighting alongside the rebels in the east of his country.

Moamer Kadhafi is seen in Tripoli on April 10

He said Qatar had sent military trainers to Libya and was supplying the rebels with French-made Milan anti-tank missiles.

Trust fund for rebels

Mahmud Jibril, who handles foreign policy for the rebels' Transitional National Council, was due in Washington to meet with senior state and defence department officials and congressional leaders. But his trip was cancelled and the talks postponed, US officials said.

In Doha, the international contact group on Libya decided, after a day-long gathering, to set up a "temporary financial mechanism" to aid the rebels seeking to oust Gaddafi.

It "affirmed that Gaddafi's regime has lost all legitimacy and he should leave and allow the Libyan people to decide their future."

While there was a consensus that Gaddafi must go, differences emerged over arming the rebels.

The rebel leadership said in a Tweet: "We're discussing weapons deals with countries that officially recognised the council; we've been getting positive replies."

The meeting's final statement said "participants in the contact group agreed to continue to provide support to the opposition, including material support."
Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani, the Qatari prime minister, told reporters the statement refers to "humanitarian means, and also means of defence. And that means that the Libyan people should get the means that they need to defend themselves."

But he seemed to acknowledge that this view was not universally held. He said "people gathered here have different interpretations," while reiterating that "the first thing that the Libyan people need is self-defence".

Franco Frattini, the Italian foreign minister, said "either we make it possible for these people to defend themselves, or we withdraw from our obligation to support defending the population of Libya".

The UN resolution "does not prohibit supplying arms ... for self-defence," Frattini said.

Meanwhile, William Hague, the British foreign secretary, said Britain had been providing non-lethal equipment to the rebels, and would continue to do so.

Belgium expressed opposition to arming the rebels, while Germany insisted that there could be "no military solution".

But Mahmud Shammam, a spokesman for the rebels, indicated that the arms issue does not require consensus.

"If needed, we will request (arms) from countries on a bilateral basis," he said.