WASHINGTON - The United States, in a sharp shift in tone, wants the United Nations to authorize not just a no-fly zone to aid Libyan rebels but also air strikes against Libyan tanks and heavy artillery, US officials said on Thursday.

The comments came as
at least 30 women, children and elderly men have been killed in crossfire as Libyan rebels and Gaddafi's troops fought around the eastern town of Ajdabiyah, Al Arabiya TV reported on Thursday.

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The United States has concluded a "no-fly" zone should be adopted and other measures that go well beyond a no-fly zone, should be taken, including air strikes against Libyan armor and artillery, US officials said.

The United States is also seeking UN authorization for other steps under consideration, including diverting frozen assets of leader Muammar Gaddafi to Libyan rebels for buying weapons and tightening a Libyan arms embargo.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday said Gaddafi is likely to cause problems for neighboring Tunisia, Egypt and everyone else if he stays in power.

"Tunisia knows very well that if Gaddafi does not go, he will most likely cause trouble for you, for Egypt and for everybody else. That is just his nature. You know, there are some creatures that are like that," Clinton said during a televised question and answer program with Tunisians.

State Department Undersecretary of State William Burns said the United States supports international measures "short of boots on the ground" to address the Libyan crisis.

He said Washington is concerned Gaddafi could "return to terrorism and violent extremism" and create turmoil in the Middle East.

Any military plan adopted must have active participation by Arab League nations.

"They have to do more than just support it," a senior official said.

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turmoil in the Middle East

The move toward a tougher stance in favor of military action comes after an extended internal debate within the Obama administration, and as the Libyan opposition appeals for immediate assistance to prevent the rebel capital of Benghazi from falling to forces loyal to Gaddafi.

Pentagon officials have made clear their wariness of instituting a no-fly zone with US forces already engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan and a massive relief operation under way in Japan.

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