Speaking at a meeting of NATO defense ministers in the Belgian capital of Brussels on Thursday, Rasmussen said the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is ready to consider possible military “options” if necessary and has stepped up surveillance of Libya’s air space with radar-equipped aircraft, AFP reported.

“It does not mean we are deciding to consider carrying out specific operational steps today, but it does mean we are watching what the Libyan regime does to its people very closely indeed,” he said.

The NATO chief said that any military intervention against Gaddafi’s regime would have to be based on a legal basis and have regional support.

“If there is a demonstrable need, if we have a clear mandate and strong regional support, we stand ready to help. Time is of the essence,” Rasmussen said.

On Thursday, Libyan warplanes launched a blitz on revolutionary forces’ positions in the northern oil port city of Ras Lanuf in an attempt to contain their advance toward Gaddafi’s stronghold in the capital Tripoli.

The blitz comes as Gaddafi’s military has been making more use of its air power advantage to attack protesters.

Libyan forces loyal to Gaddafi closed in on revolutionary forces Wednesday in the city of Zawiyah, located 50 kilometers (31 miles) west of Tripoli, and surrounded them with tanks and snipers in the main square.

Rising casualties, threats of starvation and a refugee crisis have mounted pressure on foreign governments to adopt appropriate measure against the Gaddafi regime.

Britain and France are seeking a UN resolution to authorize a no-fly zone over Libya’s airspace to stop Gaddafi’s air force from launching further air strikes against anti-government forces.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has asserted that such measures must only be taken by the United Nations.

Libyan anti-government forces, inspired by revolutions that toppled authoritarian rulers in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt, are fighting to drive Gaddafi out of power after more than 41 years of despotic rule

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