France will send "massive" aid to opposition territory in Libya and has not ruled out supporting a NATO enforcement of a no-fly zone over the country, Prime Minister Francois Fillon said Monday.
"In a few hours two French planes will leave for Benghazi on behalf of the French government with doctors, nurses, medical equipment and medicine," the French premier said in an interview with RTL radio.
"This will be the start of a massive humanitarian aid operation to the populations of liberated areas," he declared.
After fierce fighting between rebel and loyalist forces last week, the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi is in the hands of an interim revolutionary government and militia fighters in revolt against Muamer Gaddafi's rule.
France is smarting from criticism it was too close to the authoritarian regimes in Tunisia and Egypt that were overthrown in recent weeks in popular uprisings, and is trying to recast itself as a friend to Arab democrats.
On Sunday, President Nicolas Sarkozy replaced his foreign minister -- who had been tainted by her ties to allies of the former Tunisian regime -- and declared that Paris would do whatever it could to support the uprisings.
But Fillon was cautious about the suggestion that French air power could be used to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent Gaddafi from bombing his opponents or flying in more mercenary forces to prop up his regime.
"No one in Europe today has the means to carry out such an operation alone. We would need, therefore, to involve NATO and I think that will need to be thought about," he said, adding the UN Security Council would be consulted.
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates confirmed Wednesday the Western allies were discussing the possible imposition of an air embargo, adding that France and Italy were perhaps best placed to lead such an operation.