LIBYAN rebels urgently need further support to defend civilians against the forces of Muammar Gaddafi, a meeting in Qatar was told last night.
The so-called Libyan contact group said it was looking into a "temporary financial mechanism" so the rebels could access government assets frozen abroad.
Gaddafi and his regime had lost "all legitimacy and he must leave power, allowing the Libyan people to determine their own future", the group said.
In London, British Prime Minister David Cameron said the UK would provide body armour to rebels. His meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris today will focus on examining ways to help the Libyan opposition and establishing how NATO can increase its military actions to put "real pressure on Gaddafi" and stop the "appalling murder of civilians", he told Sky News.
Libya has been effectively split in two since the early stages of the two-month conflict, which has helped push oil prices up 25pc. NATO air strikes against Gaddafi since March 19 haven't stopped artillery attacks and sniper fire on cities such as Misrata, in the west of the country, or enabled the rebels to take and hold strategic towns such as Ajdabiya and the oil port of Ras Lanuf in central Libya.
Qatar confirmed yesterday it was marketing Libyan oil on behalf of the opposition and was providing energy products to Benghazi.
The rebels' Interim Transitional National Council, which had a delegation in the Qatar capital Doha, earlier appealed to the UN to declare Misrata an "internationally protected zone" and help prevent "a massacre of men, women and children" in the besieged city.
"There is fighting going on and electricity and water have been cut off throughout the city," Abdulhamid Elmadani, secretary-general of the Libyan Red Crescent, said yesterday in Benghazi, the rebels' eastern stronghold.
"People are dependent on wells whose water is not fit for drinking. There is no hospital, more like a complex of clinics."
Gaddafi's government vowed to "confront anyone trying to get close to Misrata under the pretext of humanitarian aid", according to Al Arabiya television.
More than 1,000 people have been killed and "several thousand" wounded in the city in the six-week siege, according to Suleiman Fortia, a spokesman for the rebels' council.