Nato has decided to boost surveillance flights over Libya, a senior US official said as the alliance debates imposing a no-fly zone over the country.

US Ambassador to Nato Ivo Daalder says allies had agreed to increase AWACs flights from 10 to 24 hours a day. The expansion is part of contingency planning for possible military intervention in Libya beyond humanitarian efforts.

The decision came as the alliance’s governing board met to discuss what Nato could bring to Libya.

He said other ideas being considered were retasking Nato vessels in the Mediterranean Sea along with nearby air assets to deal with humanitarian aid and establishing a command and control structure to co-ordinate relief efforts.

Earlier President Barack Obama warned Libya’s leaders that the US and Nato were still considering military options in response to what he called “unacceptable” violence perpetrated by supporters of Muammar Gaddafi.

Libyan warplanes launched multiple air strikes on opposition fighters in the second day of a government crackdown to thwart rebels advancing on Col Gaddafi’s stronghold in Tripoli.

Britain and France are drafting a UN resolution that would establish a no-fly zone over Libya.

A British diplomat at the UN has stressed that the resolution is being prepared as a contingency in case it is needed, but no decision has been made to introduce it at the UN Security Council.

Libya’s UN ambassador and his deputy have urged the council to impose a no-fly zone to prevent Col Gaddafi’s forces from bombing civilians. Rebel fighters have also urged the establishment of a no-fly zone, saying they can take on Col Gaddafi’s elite ground forces, but are outgunned if he uses his air power.

Developments in Middle East, North Africa

Libya: Libyan rebels ceded ground to Muammar Gaddafi’s advancing forces as the US came under increasing pressure to arm the opposition and the UN appointed a special humanitarian envoy.

An air strike targeted rebels east of the oil town of Ras Lanuf, where fighters opened fire with anti-aircraft guns, an AFP reporter said.

A civilian car in Ras Lanuf was also hit in an air strike, causing casualties, witnesses said.

US defence planners are preparing a range of land, sea and air military options in Libya in case Washington and its allies decide to intervene, The New York Times reported.

Britain and France could put a resolution to the UN Security Council this week demanding a no-fly zone, diplomats said.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said that any possible military action against Col Gaddafi must have international approval.

Russia opposes any form of military intervention in Libya, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

Libyan warplanes have reduced their activity against rebel forces since a peak last week, the US envoy to Nato said, playing down the need for a no-fly zone.

Col Gaddafi accused France of interfering in Libyan internal affairs and blamed Al-Qaeda for the revolt, in an interview on France24 television.

The British government was left red-faced after a botched attempt by special forces to make contact with the Libyan opposition ended in the team being seized by rebels.

Jordan’s former foreign minister Abdul Ilah Khatib, named as UN special envoy for humanitarian affairs in Libya, will meet all sides in the conflict, an associate said.

Attacks on civilians in Libya may be “crimes against humanity,” Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.

The United Nations called for 114 million to cover the needs of those who have fled Libya as well as others who remain trapped in the strife-torn country.

Bahrain: Dozens of activists protested at the US embassy in Manama calling for Washington to press Bahraini authorities for democratic reform after weeks of demonstrations.

Housing Minister Majid al-Alawi announced plans to build 50,000 houses at a cost of at least $5.32 billion in the latest move to try to calm the protests gripping the small but strategic kingdom.

Egypt: Ministers of Egypt’s new government were sworn in by the head of the armed forces Supreme Council Mohammed Hussein Tantawi.

Forty seven police officers suspected of destroying documents in state security service offices are in custody, a senior judiciary official said.

Syria: Thirteen jailed Syrian human rights activists are on hunger strike at Adra prison near Damascus, protesting against the nearly half-century-old state of emergency.

Iraq: Around 500 protesters took to the streets of central Baghdad to mark one year since parliamentary elections, rallying against what they said were politicians’ broken promises.

Palestinian territories: Hamas police detained at least six protesters at a Gaza City demonstration calling for unity between the Islamist group and its bitter West Bank rival Fatah.

Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia has released a Shiite cleric whose arrest last month provoked demonstrations and a Facebook call for a “Day of Rage,” a human rights activist said.

Oman: Sultan Qaboos ordered a major cabinet reshuffle after weeks of anti-government protests in the strategic Gulf state, state television said.

Tunisia: Tunisia announced a new interim government free of any members of the regime of toppled Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and scrapped a security agency that had targeted political dissidents.

Kuwait: The Fifth Fence youth group has been using microblogging website Twitter to urge its supporters to join a rally planned for Tuesday, coinciding with parliament’s first meeting after a six-week break.

Yemen: Riot police fired warning shots and used batons to disperse prisoners in Sanaa’s central jail after they called for the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The opposition vowed on Sunday to intensify protests against the Saleh regime after the embattled leader refused to resign by the end of the year.

Algeria: Thousands of auxiliary police marched in Algiers to demand pay rises, breaking through heavy security to reach parliament in a rare mass show of dissent.

The government is studying ways to improve dialogue with the public including the use of social media, a minister said on Sunday, after police cracked down on anti-regime rallies.

Morocco: A few hundred people, mainly youths, attended a quickly improvised pro-democracy rally in front of the Moroccan parliament on Sunday, calling for the rule of law and radical political reform.

Young activists are using Facebook to call for new demonstrations on March 20 “for dignity and large scale political reforms.”

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