WASHINGTON, July 5 (UPI) -- The driving force in NATO's bombing campaign against Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi has brushed aside a U.N. resolution and supplied arms to rebels.
French government officials, following a report in the Paris newspaper Le Figaro, said tons of small arms -- rifles, machine guns, anti-tank rockets -- and ammunition had been airdropped early in June to rebels in the Nafusa Mountains, a Berber tribal area, under pressure from Gadhafi forces.
The mountains are about 40 miles from Tripoli.
Humanitarian aid was also airdropped, they said.
The delivery of weaponry was the first by a NATO country to combatant forces in the Libyan conflict since hostilities began in March. It could mark more aggressive tactics to help strengthen rebels and topple the Gadhafi regime.
Under U.N. resolutions earlier this year, an international embargo on Libya was established, a no-fly zone was established and military action authorized to protect Libyan dissidents and civilians from deadly reprisals from Gadhafi amid "Arab Spring" protests.
The African Union and others condemned the weapons drop as a violation the embargo ruling.
Possibly but it depends of the interpretation of the document. Paris has said the arms embargo only applies to the Gadhafi government. Also, the weapons were needed to safeguard the local population.
"We informed our partners in NATO and the Security Council about these deliveries," French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said during a visit to Moscow. "We believe that within the frameworks of Resolutions 1970 and 1973 -- and 1970 as a whole -- it is clear that all means are legitimate for protecting peaceful civilians."
Washington, which reportedly taken back seat in NATO airstrikes, apparently shares the French view as do the British although neither have been found to be supplying weapons.
According to the report, London has personnel with rebel forces in Benhazi, eastern Libya, advising on logistics. It has also offered to provide protective vests, uniforms, radios and other non-lethal equipment.
"U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 allows all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas," British Prime Minister David Cameron told Parliament.
The campaign by NATO against Gadhafi began with U.S. cruise missile strikes and coalition bombardment of command-and control centers of Gadhafi's armed forces. In the words of U.S. President Barak Obama, it would be days rather than weeks before combat operations ended and Gadhafi would fade from the scene.
One major obstacle to that prediction: Gadhafi isn't caving.
France's arms and munitions drop could be a one-off enterprise. But with stalemate has come fissures in the NATO coalition. Norway is withdrawing its combat aircraft, the U.S. Congress is challenging Obama on the war and Italy has called for negotiations to end to the protracted conflict.
The Dutch, who are also participating in the NATO operation appear to be leaning the same as Italy. Foreign Minister Hans Hillen, speaking to reporters last week voiced concern over mission creep and called for a political end of the war.