BRUSSELS, March 7 (UPI) -- The counteroffensive launched by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is increasing pressure on the West to help stop the fighting in the North African country.
Gadhafi loyalists attacked an oil town on the Mediterranean coast previously held by rebel forces. All over the country, fights were intensifying since the weekend, the BBC reports. Western hopes that Gadhafi, much like the ousted leaders in Tunisia and Egypt, would bow to domestic and international pressure by resigning, have been shattered.
The United Nations and the European Union said Sunday they would dispatch humanitarian monitoring teams to Libya to see how the West can help prevent further civilian suffering.
There have been allegations that forces loyal to Gadhafi have attacked civilians in what could result in war crime investigations. Because of the media restrictions, it's difficult to establish a reliable casualty toll, however.
Tripoli gave U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon the green light to send the U.N. mission to the Libyan capital. Ban also appointed former Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdelilah al-Khatib as a special envoy for Libya.
Brussels also decided to send a fact-finding mission -- it's as far as the EU will go at this point.
"I have decided to dispatch this high-level mission to provide me with first-hand, real-time information to feed into the discussions leading up to Friday's extraordinary European Council, when I will update heads of state and government on the situation," Catherine Ashton, the EU's top foreign affairs official, said in a statement.
In addition to the humanitarian concerns, the West has every reason to be worried.
The crisis in Libya could turn the country into a destabilizing factor in the region, increase migrant flows to Europe and undermine the global economic recovery by increasing the oil price.
At the moment, however, the West's options are limited.
Gadhafi has vowed that he would continue to fight what he said were al-Qaida affiliates and thugs attacking government buildings. The rebels, arguing they're trying to end an oppressive regime that has ruled for the past four decades, say they won't negotiate with Gadhafi.
In an interview with the Welt am Sonntag newspaper, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle called for tougher measures against the Libyan regime as a first way out of the crisis.
"What's happening in Libya fills me with the greatest concern," he told the newspaper."Targeted sanctions are necessary against those people who are responsible for the crimes against the Libyan people. The flow of money must be stopped."
Observers doubt that this can drain the means with which Gadhafi is supporting his military offensive. Diplomats in Europe haven't been eager to mention the military option but it's clear that it's on the table.
Westerwelle is one of 27 EU foreign ministers who are to meet Thursday in Brussels to discuss the Libya crisis. They're expected to at least touch on the issue of a military intervention if the fighting intensifies and develops into a full-fledged civil war.
Several Western countries have moved military vessels toward North Africa. British defense officials said some 600 British troops had been put on 24-hour notice to be deployed to Libya, The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported last week.