March 7, 2011 2:41 p.m. EST CNN
Tripoli, Libya (CNN) -- Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi took aim at the rebel-controlled town of Ras Lanuf on Monday, launching aerial strikes as part of an assault aimed at crushing the uprising against him.
At the end of the third week of unrest -- protests began February 15 -- Gadhafi's aerial forces targeted the main road heading into the oil town after launching another airstrike earlier, five kilometers southeast of the city.
In what has turned into a civil war, members of the opposition fired anti-aircraft guns toward Gadhafi's planes.
Some families fled Ras Lanuf, hoping to escape the violence that has engulfed some of the country's most populous areas.
U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague said Monday "there are credible reports of the use of helicopter gunships against civilians by government forces."
Three members of the U.N. Security Council -- France, Britain, and the United States -- were working Monday on a possible resolution that would include language on a no-fly zone over Libya, diplomatic sources at the United Nations said.
But any kind of military intervention could face sharp criticism from Russia and China, two fellow permanent members of the council that wield veto power.
U.S. President Barack Obama said Monday he had a "very clear message to those who are around Col. Gadhafi: It is their choice to make how they operate moving forward and they will be held accountable for whatever violence continues to take place there."
"We've got NATO as we speak consulting in Brussels around a wide range of potential options, including potential military options, in response to the violence that continues to take place inside Libya," he said.
In a statement, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said NATO did not intend to intervene in Libya, but "as a defence Alliance and a security organization, it is our job to conduct prudent planning for any eventuality."
NATO has begun around-the-clock surveillance flights of Libya, as it considers options for dealing with the Libyan violence, U.S. Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder told reporters Monday.
While the opposition has managed to fight off onslaughts by Gadhafi's forces in some places -- including what a witness described as an "amazing" victory against Gadhafi's heavy artillery Sunday in the town of Misrata -- the regime has advanced as well. Gadhafi's forces seemed to make headway in the city of Bin Jawad, where the Libyan army appeared to have control Monday after fighting over the weekend.
But in Zawiya -- a city that the government insisted it had retaken -- the opposition still appeared to control the city center, and fighting was under way Monday. CNN saw pro-Gadhafi forces moving through the city, small arms fire, anti-aircraft gunfire and artillery. As the Libyan military brought in reinforcements, CNN could see about 150 troops moving into the city.
Anti-government protesters are seeking the ouster of the 68-year-old Gadhafi after nearly 42 years of ruling the country -- the kind of revolution that was seen in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt. But unlike in those countries, the Libyan uprising has turned into warfare.
CNN's Ben Wedeman, just outside Ras Lanouf, heard someone say, "We'll capture (Gadhafi), put him on top of this car and drive all around Libya. Every Libyan will get one shot."
A special forces captain told Wedeman he is trying to teach volunteers "it's impossible to attack artillery with a Kalishnikov" rifle.
Hague, speaking to Britain's Parliament, said that in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, "there have been disturbing reports of hostage taking and large military deployments around the city designed to consolidate Gadhafi's position and intimidate his opponents. His forces remain in control of Tripoli, Sebha and Sirte; but his authority is contested in large swathes of the country where local tribes have withdrawn their support. There is a clear risk of protracted conflict and an extremely dangerous and volatile situation in large parts of the country."
With no clear end to the deadly clashes in sight, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed a new special envoy to Libya to discuss the crisis with officials in Tripoli, the United Nations said in a statement Monday.
Abdelilah Al-Khatib, a former foreign minister of Jordan, was appointed to "undertake urgent consultations with the authorities in Tripoli and in the region on the immediate humanitarian situation as well as the wider dimensions of the crisis," according to the U.N. statement.
"The secretary-general is deeply concerned about the fighting in western Libya, which is claiming large numbers of lives and threatens even more carnage in the days ahead," the statement said. "He notes that civilians are bearing the brunt of the violence, and calls for an immediate halt to the government's disproportionate use of force and indiscriminate attacks on civilian targets."
Humanitarian and medical aid to Misrata, in central Libya, has been blocked, U.N. emergency relief coordinator Valerie Amos said in a statement Sunday. She urged authorities "to provide access without delay to allow aid workers to help save lives."
After reports of the opposition successfully fighting off pro-Gadhafi forces in Misrata on Sunday, Libyan state TV showed a graphic -- in both Arabic and English -- saying that "strict orders have been issued to the armed forces not to enter cities taken by terrorist gangs, who took civilians as human shields and threatened to slaughter the inhabitants of those cities." The report cited "military sources."
There have been numerous conflicting reports over who controlled what cities, with the government declaring victory in some cities while witnesses in those cities told CNN the opposition was still in control.
Throngs of Gadhafi supporters filled Tripoli's Green Square on Sunday. Throughout the turmoil, witnesses in Tripoli have described the government using all sorts of methods to drum up crowds, including forcibly dragging some people to them while keeping anti-Gadhafi demonstrators off the streets.
Death toll estimates have ranged from more than 1,000 to as many as 2,000, and the international community has been pondering strategies on how to end the violence and remove the Gadhafi regime.
Benjamin Barber, a fellow at the New York-based Demos think-tank who worked closely with the Gadhafi Foundation, told CNN's Fareed Zakaria that he thought Gadhafi, his son Saif and their supporters would likely "fight to the death" -- meaning a prolonged war.
Even if Gadhafi is somehow ousted, Barber predicted the violence could continue as tribes duke it out for supremacy in a nation that has few significant public institutions to fill a potentially chaotic void.
The fierce fighting has sparked the flight of Libyans and foreigners out of Libya, with nations across the globe scrambling to help people leave.
About 200,000 people have fled Libya with nearly equal numbers going to Tunisia and Egypt, the U.N. refugee agency has said.
But not everyone has been able to get out. On Monday, several hundred expatriates from Mali gathered outside Mali's embassy in Tripoli, seeking assistance in getting out of the Libya. Many were migrant workers who said they no longer have any work, though the situation in Tripoli appeared to be calmer in recent days.
Some of the migrant workers tried to cross into Algeria -- which shares a border with Mali -- but were refused by Algerian officials.
Meanwhile, Agostino Miozzo, a European Union representative on a fact-finding mission in Libya, said at a news conference in Tripoli Monday that his mission was to make sure all citizens from EU member countries are able to be evacuated.
Click to view image: 'Libyan airstrike'
|Liveleak on Facebook|