France has acknowledged dropping arms to rebels in Libya, while NATO ally Britain is declining to follow suit over concerns about UN Security Council authorization.
The French ambassador to the United Nations Gerard Araud said on Wednesday that his country's delivery of arms to the rebels was not in breach of a Security Council resolution that established an arms embargo to Libya.
"We decided to provide self-defence weapons to the civilian populations because we considered these populations were under threat," he told reporters.
Colonel Thierry Burkhard, spokesman for the French general staff, told AFP the shipments were essentially light arms such as assault rifles to help civilians protect themselves from regime troops.
He said France had become aware in early June that rebel-held Berber villages in the Nafusa mountains region had come under pressure from Kadhafi loyalists after joining the revolt against the strongman's four-decade rule.
"We began by dropping humanitarian aid: food, water and medical supplies," he said. "During the operation, the situation for the civilians on the ground worsened. We dropped arms and means of self-defence, mainly ammunition."
Burkhard described the arms as "light infantry weapons of the rifle type" and said the drops were carried out over several days "so that civilians would not be massacred."
France's Le Figaro daily, citing a secret intelligence memo and well-placed officials, said the air drops of weapons were designed to help rebels encircle Tripoli and encourage a popular revolt in the city itself.
The crates contained assault rifles, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, it said, along with European-made Milan anti-tank missiles.
Britain's minister for international security strategy, Gerald Howarth, said London would not emulate France's move because that would raise "quite a few issues," including with the UN resolution that authorised military action in Libya.
The Security Council adopted Resolution 1970 in February and Resolution 1973 in March on the conflict in Libya. These resolutions imposed severe sanctions on the Kadhafi regime, notably the embargo of arms supplies to Libya and demanded the protection of civilian populations.
Article 4 of Resolution 1973 specified that allowances to the arms embargo can be allowed if in the interest of protecting civilians.
"We do think the United Nations resolutions allow, in certain limited circumstances, defensive weapons to be provided but the UK is not engaged in that. Other countries will interpret the resolution in their own way," said Howarth.
France has taken a leading role in organising international support for the uprising against Kadhafi's four-decade old rule, and French and British jets are spearheading a NATO-led air campaign targeting his forces.
African leaders mediating the Libyan conflict meanwhile adopted proposals for a political solution to the crisis to be presented before a summit on Thursday.
Components of the roadmap approved by the committee of five presidents included humanitarian aspects, a ceasefire, an inclusive and consensual transition and political reforms, African Union peace commission commissioner Ramtame Lamamra told AFP.
Libyan rebels have rejected the plan unless Kadhafi steps down. The increasingly emboldened rebels suffered a deadly assault from veteran strongman Moamer Kadhafi's forces in the third-largest city Misrata, where rockets killed one civilian and wounded six late Tuesday, residents said.
And in London, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the cash-strapped rebels had received the first $100 million (70 million euros) from a fund set up by international donors for "vital fuel and salaries," but the rebels said it was not enough.
NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the transatlantic military alliance has "all resources and assets necessary to continue the (Libya) operation and bring it to a successful end."
However, he urged more cooperation among NATO members to "share and pull resources to get more efficient use."
And amid a US debate over whether Barack Obama exceeded his powers regarding US involvement in the NATO campaign, the president said it remained limited and legal, accusing congressional critics of making a "fuss" for political reasons.
He said the operation was carried out under a legitimate UN mandate and Congress was properly consulted, adding that as a consequence, Kadhafi "is pinned down and the noose is tightening around him."
The rebels complained earlier this month they were running out of money and had not yet received any of the roughly $1 billion promised by international donors.
Mazen Ramadan, an economic advisor for the rebel leadership's National Transitional Council, said the $100 million received over the past week "is a small amount relative to what we owe; fuel shipments are more than that."
He called on foreign donors to back new loans using frozen funds as collateral, including more than $30 billion in the United States alone.
"This whole asset unfreezing thing is going to take a while," he said in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi. "We are working with a lot of people but it seems like a time-consuming process, and we need the money yesterday."
He said the rebels had proposed using frozen assets to "ensure transparency."