Arab foreign ministers council discuss developments in Libya

Council rejects foreign intervention, threatens no-fly zone on Libya

Arab ministers agree to postpone Baghdad summit to May

Military council formed in Benghazi to defend borders

Clinton, NATO say all options being considered

Arab foreign ministers condemned Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi'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.

Gaddafi'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 the meetings said delegates were debating whether to send a delegation to Libya to meet with Gaddafi in a bid to ensure the safety of the Libyan people and that of Gaddafi's family. Another option on the table was to send an Arab League fact-finding mission.

But one diplomat said there were fears that such overtures may lend legitimacy to what Gaddafi'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.

Diplomats said that an Arab League summit to be held in Iraq will be delayed for a few weeks because of the turmoil sweeping through the Middle East, the Associated Press reported.

Three Arab League diplomats and an Iraqi foreign ministry official say ministers meeting in Cairo this week agreed to postpone the annual meeting from March 29 to no later than May 15 because of the unrest.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in exchange for providing the information ahead of an official announcement.

In a meeting of the foreign ministers of the 22-member group, Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said the meeting came at a pivotal stage in Arab history, the Jordan News Agency, Petra, reported.

"What we have so far witnessed from Arab youths who seek democracy and political involvement within an enlightened frame must be preserved in its noble image," which will "provide a realistic reflection of the Arab world," he said, praying for the martyrs who passed away.

Petra quoted Judeh as saying that Jordan continues to support joint Arab cooperation and contribute to the rise and prosperity of the Arab world, as an indivisible part of the Arab nations.

The minister highlighted the central role of Egypt as a main pillar of the Arab world, voicing his confidence in the continuation and reaffirmation of that role on all levels.

He also voiced Jordanian concern for the current events in Libya, calling for adopting reason and common sense in dealing with the North African nation, to protect the lives, security, and dignity of its people and residents, Petra reported.

Judeh also noted that it is Libya's responsibility to protect its people and residents and restore stability, praying for the nation's wellbeing.

But the official warned against losing focus on the key issue in Palestine and the Palestinians' right to an independent state on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, in line with international references and the Arab Peace Initiative, Petra reported.

He highlighted the Arab League's role on the global level in reflecting the real image of Arab cooperation, expressing his appreciation of Secretary General Amr Moussa's achievements over the past eight years of his tenure.

Earlier, Judeh had discussed with Moussa the latest developments in the region and the role of the Arab League in that context, according to Petra.

Meanwhile, anti-regime leaders in Benghazi said they have formed a military council in the eastern Libyan city which has become the hub of efforts to topple Moammar Gaddafi.

The council, comprising officers who joined protesters against Gaddafi’s rule, will liaise with similar groups in other freed cities in the east but it was not immediately clear if there were plans for a regional command.

"A military council was formed last night," said Salwa Bughaighi, a member of a coalition of organizers who earlier this week set up a civilian council to run the city's municipal affairs.

She said the list of members of the military committee had not yet been finalized but it did not include General Abdelfattah Yunis, a former interior minister who sided with protesters in Benghazi.

The former minister gained respect among any protesters after he defected to their side during the fighting in Benghazi.

The council would liase with similar organizations in other freed cities in the east, Bughaighi said.

Fathi Terbeel, a prominent lawyer who is also a member of the coalition, said there were still disputes over the membership of the council and added it was still unclear when a regional command would be established.

"There are still reservations over the names. The people are favoring officers who joined the revolution from the start and did not hesitate," he said.

Gaddafi faces growing pressure both at home and from the West following a show of defiance by the veteran leader the US dubbed "delusional."

Pro-Gaddafi loyalists tried to retake a key city near the capital overnight but were repulsed by rebel forces.

As armed clashes escalate in Libya, the country is on the brink of a "protracted civil war," according to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. And the U.S. is considering military options such as a no-fly zone, Clinton told a House committee.

Saying that all options are being considered as possible ways to stop the bloodshed, Clinton said, "We have also, with our NATO allies and with the Pentagon, begun to look at potential planning.... One of those actions that is under review is a no-fly zone," she said.

Speaking about Libya to the House Foreign Policy Committee, Clinton also said that any U.S. military role would have to be considered very carefully.

Clinton discussed some of those options when she sat for an interview with Michele Kelemen in Geneva. Following is a transcript of the interview, in which Clinton says U.S. and European response to the situation includes planning that "runs across a full range of potential options."