Arab foreign ministers on Wednesday condemned Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's bloody crackdown on his own people, and said they would consider imposing a no-fly zone over the country in the turmoil continues.
While no final decision has been made on an air embargo, the ministers said in a statement after talks in Cairo that "Arab countries cannot watch with their hands tied in the face of the bloodshed that the Libyan people are facing." And the fact that Arab nations are publicly discussing the option ups the pressure on Libya's embattled regime.
Gadhafi's crackdown has already been the harshest in the Arab world to the wave of anti-government protests sweeping across the Middle East. His forces are regrouping in an attempt to regain territories now controlled by opponents of his regime.
The Arab ministers said they will coordinate their discussions about a no-fly zone with the African Union and consult "about the best ways to protect and ensure the safety and security of Libyan citizens." It was not clear when the Arab countries would make a final decision.
Some NATO countries, including the U.S. and Britain, are also drawing up contingency plans modeled on the no-fly zones over the Balkans in the 1990s in case the international community decides to impose an air embargo over Libya.
The ministers also agreed to postpone an Arab League summit in Iraq originally slated for the end of the month to no later than May 15. Diplomats at the meeting said the delay stemmed from the unrest sweeping across the Middle East, from Tunisia and Egypt to now Yemen, Bahrain and Libya.
Diplomats attending Wednesday's meetings said delegates were debating whether to send a delegation to Libya to meet with Gadhafi in a bid to ensure the safety of the Libyan people and that of Gadhafi's family. Another option on the table was to send an Arab League fact-finding mission.
But one diplomat said there were fears that the such overtures may lend legitimacy to what Gadhafi's actions. The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to discuss the closed meeting talks.
The ministers also expressed regret for the hundreds of Libyans who have been killed during the protests, and called for an immediate end to "all forms of violence" in the country.
"The situation in Libya has to move towards allowing the Libyan people to express their view and freedom and not to be subject to bloody attacks," Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa told reporters. "We have to save the Libyan people and that is why we are trying to call on Libya and the Libyan authorities to cease immediately those attacks against the Libyan population."
The ministers said they will continue to bar Libya from attending the Arab League meetings until it meets Arab demands to immediately stop all violence and launch dialogue to guarantee the Libyan people's security and stability. The Libyan delegation had resigned to denounce the excessive use of force against protesters.