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NATO Says Arming Libyan Rebels Not an Option

A French pilot gives a thumbs-up before taking off in a Mirage 2000 fighter jet from the Greek air base at Souda on the island of Crete, March 30, 2011
A French pilot gives a thumbs-up before taking off in a Mirage 2000 fighter jet from the Greek air base at Souda on the island of Crete, March 30, 2011
Lisa Bryant

As NATO assumed full control of military operations targeting Libya, the alliance's chief said the body does not support the idea of arming the rebel forces.

Hours after NATO took over the Libyan operations, the alliance's Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen laid out the goals: to protect the Libyan people, not to arm them. His remarks appeared to contradict suggestions by U.S. and British officials that the UN mandate guiding NATO operations could allow for arming rebels fighting the forces of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

The White House says no decision has been made on whether to arm the rebels but that it is considering all options.

Recent advances by Gadhafi's troops have intensified the debate. At a press conference in Brussels Thursday, NATO's Military Committee Chairman Admiral Giampaolo Di Paola acknowledged the question of arming rebels was far from resolved.

"If I listen to where the debate is going, there are those who say that there might be a different interpretation,” Di Paola said. “So it's not that clear if it would be in breach or non breach of the (UN) resolution."

There are also reports that the CIA and British intelligence operatives are in Libya gathering intelligence for military air strikes. Di Paola said NATO was not questioning where its intelligence was coming from.

"They will provide intelligence and we will use it,” Di Paola added. “It is up to that nation to decide what kind of intelligence they want to provide and we are not questioning which source it's coming from."

Di Paola also said that reports of "flickers" of al-Qaida among the Libyan opposition were not surprising given the geographic situation and instability in the North African country. Concerns about al-Qaida's presence are reportedly playing into the debate over whether to arm the opposition.

Separately, Britain said Libya's foreign minister, who apparently defected to London, was not being offered immunity. But Foreign Secretary William Hague said his departure underscored that Gadhafi's regime is fragmented and crumbling.

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