UNITED NATIONS — Supporters of a no-fly zone over Libya called for a Security Council vote Thursday on a U.N. resolution aimed at preventing Moammar Gadhafi's planes from conducting aerial attacks on the Libyan people.
Britain and France put a draft resolution that would impose a no-fly zone in a final form late Wednesday. The text will be sent to capitals overnight and can still be changed before being put to a vote in the 15-member council.
China's U.N. Ambassador Li Baodong, the current council president, told reporters "we hope we will have real progress tomorrow."
Council ambassadors met behind closed doors to debate the text for more than eight hours Wednesday, and said they would return Thursday morning.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said the Obama administration is "fully focused on the urgency and the gravity of the situation on the ground, and it's my hope that we may be in a position to vote a serious resolution as early as tomorrow. We're working very hard toward that end."
"We are interested in a broad range of actions that will effectively protect civilians and increase the pressure on the Gadhafi regime to halt the killing and to allow the Libyan people to express themselves in their aspirations for the future freely and peacefully," she said. "Those include discussion of a no-fly zone, but the U.S. view is that ... a no-fly zone has inherent limitations in terms of protection of civilians at immediate risk."
An Obama administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity because council discussions are private, said the United States is discussing a range of other concrete steps with allies, both at the United Nations and at NATO. Among those additional steps are greater humanitarian aid, supporting the Libyan resistance with money from seized Gadhafi-related assets, and greater enforcement of the U.N. arms embargo on Libya.
The U.S. goal is to prevent Gadhafi from massacring Libyans in Benghazi, the country's second largest city now in rebel hands but expected to be one of the next targets of Gadhafi's forces, the official said.
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, whose government had expressed misgivings about a no-fly zone, proposed that the council vote first on a resolution calling for a cease-fire in Libya. Rice said a majority of council members did not support a separate cease-fire resolution but said that a call for a cease-fire could be incorporated in the no-fly resolution.
"We were not rejecting at all the larger resolution," Churkin told reporters, adding that his country thought that the call for a cease-fire "could possibly prevent impending bloodshed in Libya."
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon earlier Wednesday urged all sides in Libya to accept an immediate cease-fire.
U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said Ban "is gravely concerned about the increasing military escalation by government forces, which include indications of an assault on the city of Benghazi."
The U.N. chief warned that "a campaign to bombard such an urban center would massively place civilian lives at risk," Nesirky said.
Lebanon, France and Britain introduced the draft resolution Tuesday afternoon, spurred by the Arab League's urgent call for a no-fly zone.
While Russia and Germany expressed doubts, France pushed for rapid action with Foreign Minister Alain Juppe saying in Paris that several Arab countries have pledged to participate in possible military action in the North African country.
Libya's deputy U.N. ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi, who supports the opposition, said five Arab countries have offered support.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy called on leaders of the 14 other Security Council nations to "fully shoulder their responsibilities and give support to this initiative."
"Together, we can save the martyred people of Libya," he wrote in a letter. "It is now a matter of days, if not hours. The worst would be that the appeal of the League of the Arab States and the Security Council decisions be overruled by the force of arms."
With Gadhafi's forces intensifying their attacks, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said during a visit to Egypt on Wednesday that the Obama administration is consulting with the Arab League "about their understanding of the goals and modalities of a no-fly zone as well as other forms of support."
"We believe that this must be an international effort and that there has to be decisions made in the Security Council in order for any of these steps to go forward," she said.
Libya's Dabbashi told reporters he expects a no-fly resolution to be adopted, with a provision that will also allow air strikes.
He stressed the urgency of council action, saying according to information the Libyan Mission has received, Gadhafi is preparing for two operations: One against the eastern city of Ajdabiya, which is already under siege using mercenaries in more than 400 vehicles that are already en route, and one against mountain villages in the west where tanks, heavy artillery and other weapons are being gathered for an assault.
The latest push for a ban on flights in Libya came as Gadhafi's forces intensified offensives in the east and the west Wednesday with relentless shelling aimed at routing rebel holdouts.Comment on this story
France and Britain failed to win support for a no-fly zone during a two-day meeting of Group of Eight foreign ministers in Paris earlier Tuesday and the G-8's final communique did not mention a flight ban, leaving any action to the Security Council.
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at the G-8 that his country wants more details and clarity from the Arab League about its proposals for Libya before approving any military intervention, and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said his country was "very skeptical" about military action.
The Security Council on Feb. 26 imposed an arms embargo on Libya and ordered all countries to freeze assets and ban travel for Gadhafi and some close associates. It also referred the regime's deadly crackdown on protesters to the International Criminal Court, for an investigation of possible crimes against humanity.
Associated Press Writers Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations and Jamey Keaten in Paris contributed to this report.