NATO warned Monday that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi may already have committed "crimes against humanity" by attacking civilians, and said the world will not stand "idly by" if they continue.
"These widespread and systematic attacks against the civilian population may amount to crimes against humanity," NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said of the "outrageous" response of ColonelGaddafi's regime as protests evolved into full-blown civil war.
While events on the ground were fast-moving, Rasmussen underlined: "I can't imagine the international community and the UN standing idly by if Colonel Gaddafi and his regime continue to attack his own people systematically."
The Dane told a news conference at NATO headquarters that Gaddafi's "violation of human rights and international humanitarian law" had created "a human crisis on our doorstep which concerns us all."
Libyan rebels ceded ground to Gaddafi's advancing forces on Monday as the United States came under increasing domestic political pressure to arm the opposition and the United Nations appointed a special humanitarian envoy.
As international debate turned ever more towards the question of military intervention, Rasmussen stressed that "NATO has no intention to intervene in," despite intensive "prudent planning" for "any eventuality."
Once again, though, he stressed repeatedly that action would require a United Nations Security Council mandate.
"I take note of the fact the current UN mandate doesn't authorise the use of armed forces," Rasmussen added, which he said meant calls by some NATO states for the enforcement of a no-fly zone over the desert land would require a change of mindset in New York.
He said the imposition of a no-fly zone "is indeed a very comprehensive undertaking (that) will require a wide range of military assets."
US President Barack Obama said last week he was examining the "full range" of military options, including a no-fly zone, if the revolt in Libya turns into a bloody stalemate and humanitarian disaster.
France said earlier Monday that the Arab League backed Paris and London in calling for a step-change at the UN Security Council, and Rasmussen said he had spoken to the heads of both the Arab League and the chair of the African Union Commission.
"We stand ready to assist if so requested and properly mandated," he said, adding that military planning meant the 28-state alliance could act "also at short notice."
As things stand, however, Rasmussen said the outside world should focus initially "on the full implementation of the (existing UN) resolution, including the arms embargo."
Again, he cautioned that no request for NATO assistance in inspecting ships or aircraft had been received to-date.
The turmoil has sparked a mass exodus from the oil-rich north African nation.