Libya's opposition leader said Thursday that rebels needed more weapons and funding, as China and Russia raised concerns over revelations that France had supplied arms to civilians fighting Moammar Gadhafi's forces.
Mahmoud Jibril, of Libya's Transitional National Council, said foreign deliveries of military hardware would give the rebels a chance to "decide this battle quickly (and) to spill as little blood as possible."
French military spokesman Col. Thierry Burkhard said Wednesday that France had airlifted weapons to Libyan civilians in a mountain region south of Tripoli. The deliveries of guns, rocket-propelled grenades and munitions took place in early June in the western Nafusa mountains, when Gadhafi's troops had encircled civilians.
Gadhafi's Prime Minister Al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi predicted that France "will suffer for this," saying that the weapons could end up in the hands of terrorists.
"Many more French citizens will die because of these acts," al-Mahmoudi told a small group of reporters in Tripoli, according to a partial transcript of his remarks obtained by The Associated Press.
China and Russia have both questioned whether or not the supplying of weapons breached the terms of the United Nations Security Council resolution that authorizes international action in Libya.
Sergey Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, said his ministry had asked France for further details. "We are awaiting a response. If it is confirmed, it's a flagrant violation," of the resolution, he said.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner, speaking to reporters in Washington Thursday, said the U.S. would "respectfully disagree" with the Russian assessment.
"We believe that U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973, read together, neither specified nor precluded providing defense material to the Libyan opposition," he said.
Russia abstained in the U.N. vote on Libya and has voiced concern about civilian casualties and excessive use of force during the NATO-led aircampaign which began in March.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei did not mention France by name, but told reporters that nations should not overstep the remit of the U.N. resolutions.
"China calls on the international community to strictly follow the spirit of the relevant resolution of the U.N. Security Council and avoid taking any action that goes beyond the mandate of the resolution," he said.
Britain's government has insisted that the French decision to supply weapons fell within the terms of the U.N. resolutions.
Jalal el-Gallal, spokesman for Libya's opposition council, also said he believed France had acted correctly. "China has the right to disagree but the U.N. resolution stipulates whatever means necessary to protect civilians," he said.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague announced Thursday the U.K. was sending 5,000 sets of body armor, 6,650 uniforms, 5,000 high-visibility vests and communications equipment to police officers in rebel-held areas.
He said the new supplies would help Libya's opposition protect civilians and the growing community of diplomats and aid workers in eastern Libya.
Police will be able to "better protect Transitional National Council representatives and the significant international and NGO communities in Benghazi, Misrata and other areas of Libya" under opposition control, Hague said.
In Austria, where Jibril was meeting with Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger, the rebel leader warned that unless the opposition council receives large amounts of foreign money, schools will not be able to open later this year. It follows warnings from the rebels that hospitals are also running short on cash and supplies.
Earlier this week, the opposition was handed an initial $100 million in donor money to pay for salaries and fuel. The international contact group on Libya has already pledged to supply more than $1.3 billion for Libya's opposition.
Austrian officials, who asked for anonymity because their information was sensitive, said the government was ready to unfreeze some of the billions of dollars frozen in Austrian accounts and funnel them to the rebels but only after making sure that such a move did not violate laws prohibiting the rights of the account holders, many of them private citizens.
Jahn reported from Vienna. David Nowak in Moscow, Rami al-Shaheibi in Benghazi, Libya and Adam Schreck in Tripoli contributed to this report.
David Stringer can be reached at http://bit.ly/b2tTK0