By Regan E. Doherty
DOHA (Reuters) - Qatar became the first Arab country on Monday to recognize Libya's rebels as the people's sole legitimate representative, in a move that may presage similar moves from other Gulf states.
Word of the decision came a day after a senior Libyan rebel official said Qatar had agreed to market crude oil produced from east Libyan fields no longer under the control of leader Muammar Gaddafi.
"This recognition comes from a conviction that the council has become, practically, a representative of Libya and its brotherly people," the Qatar News Agency reported, quoting a Foreign Ministry official.
France previously recognized the rebel council as the legitimate representative of Libya, the first and so far only Western power to do so.
Explaining Qatar's decision, the official said the rebel council included representatives of different Libyan regions and had acceptance among the Libyan people.
The head of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a loose economic and politic bloc, said the "Libyan system has lost its legitimacy" and backed the move by the tiny Gulf Arab state.
GCC Secretary General Abdulrahman al-Attiyah told Reuters the Qatari position was "in line with the decisions of the GCC with Qatar's stance supporting the choices of the Libyan people and their protection from the continuous brutality of the regime."
Small, energy-rich Qatar on Friday became the first Arab country to begin patrolling a U.N.-backed no-fly zone aimed at preventing Gaddafi's forces attacking civilians and has urged Gaddafi to quit to avoid more bloodshed.
"By recognizing the rebels before anyone else, Qatar is clearly taking the lead and positioning itself at the cutting edge of international opinion and discussion on Libya," David Roberts, Deputy Director of the Doha-based Royal United Services Institute, said.
(Additional reporting by Jason Benham in Riyadh, Edmund Blair in Cairo; Writing by Amran Abocar; Editing by Michael Roddy)