Britain and France are preparing a UN Security Council resolution authorizing a no-fly zone over Libya, and diplomats said on Monday it will be tough but not impossible to get Russia and China's support.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said in London that Britain was working with other countries on a draft. Diplomats in Paris and New York said the work was being done by Britain and France in close consultation with the United States and Germany.

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Hague told the British parliament there were "credible reports" that Libyan government forces had used helicopter gunships against civilians as supporters of Muammar Gaddafi try to put down a revolt against his 41-year rule.

Diplomats said a decision by France and Britain to submit a draft resolution to the 15-nation council would depend on whether certain "triggers" for action were met. These, they said, could include a marked deterioration of the humanitarian situation or mass aerial bombardments of civilian areas.

"We just want to be ready should the decision to launch negotiations on such a (no-fly zone) resolution be made so that we can make as rapid progress as possible," a diplomat said.

Some envoys said the NATO alliance could be charged with enforcing the zone. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said that the alliance would only do so if the UN Security Council authorized it.

The U.S. envoy to NATO Ivo Daalder said on Monday that the alliance has launched 24-hour aerial surveillance of Libya. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has made clear enforcing a no-fly zone would amount to military intervention.

US President Barack Obama on Monday said that NATO is considering taking military action in Libya, USA Today reported.

Speaking after a meeting with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard at the White House, Obama said that NATO was meeting in Brussels and consulting "around a wide range of potential options, including potential military options, in response to the violence that continues to take place inside of Libya."

Obama stated that he had authorized millions of dollars in humanitarian aid for the Libyan people who he said are facing "unacceptable violence from the regime of leader Muammar Gaddafi.

The US president warned that Gaddafi and his supporters would be held responsible for the violence being perpetrated in Libya.

Earlier on Monday, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates cautioned  that any foreign military intervention in the crisis in Libya would require international backing.

"I think we will have to monitor the situation very closely," Gates, on a visit to Afghanistan, said when asked about the possibility of an international military response in Libya.

"But I think at this point there is a sense that any action should be the result of international sanction," he told a news conference.

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turmoil in the Middle East

The comments came as government forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi struck at rebels in the east and concern mounted over civilian suffering and a growing exodus of refugees.

Gates said developments in the Middle East had further damaged the image of Iran, where the opposition says at least 79 people were arrested at protest rallies last week that the government denied had even taken place.

"I think where Iran is the loser ... is the contrast between militaries and security authorities in places like Tunisia and Egypt standing aside while people protest against their government, while security services of the Iranian government ruthlessly suppress and kill those who would criticise or protest."

"They (Iran) are losers already in this image across the world," he said.

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