A draft U.N. Security Council resolution, obtained by Al Arabiya, would authorize a no-fly zone over Libya and allow Arab states and others in cooperation with the United Nations to protect Libyan civilians, including the rebel-held city of Benghazi.
If adopted, the resolution would allow "all necessary measures" to be taken "to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in (Libya), including Benghazi, while excluding an occupation force."
A vote on the draft resolution was set for 2200 GMT.
According to the resolution, the Security Council would "establish a ban on all flights in the airspace of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya in order to help protect civilians."
The resolution tightens sanctions that were ordered against the Gaddafi regime on Feb. 26. Resolution 1970 ordered an assets freeze and travel ban against the Libyan leader, members of his family and close associates.
It deplores Gaddafi's failure to heed the U.N. calls for an end to the violence and says that "widespread and systematic attacks" on civilians are still taking place and warns that these could be crimes against humanity.
Expected Libyan response
Libya's Defense Ministry, meanwhile, said in a statement broadcast on state television that any foreign attack on Libya will endanger air and maritime traffic in the Mediterranean basin and expose the area to both short and long term risks.
The statement said Libya would strike back at civilian and foreign targets if the country comes under attack from foreign forces.
"Any foreign military act against Libya will expose all air and maritime traffic in the Mediterranean Sea to danger and civilian and military (facilities) will become targets of Libya's counter-attack," said the statement.
"The Mediterranean basin will face danger not just in the short-term, but also in the long-term," it said.
Qatar and United Arab Emirates could be among the Arab nations to join any coalition that takes action against Gaddafi's regime in Libya, the Arab League's U.N. representative said Thursday.
"It is a possibility," Yahya Mahmassani, the Arab League envoy, told reporters at the U.N. headquarters, adding however that he "cannot confirm," the participation of those two Arab nations.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe earlier headed for New York to press for tough action by the 15-nation council and the United States has warned that a no-fly zone may not be strong enough.
France wants the U.N. Security Council to vote no later than Thursday evening on a resolution authorizing a no-fly zone over Libya and stepped-up sanctions, French U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud said.
"I would say that we are asking for a vote at 6:00 p.m. (2200 GMT)," he told reporters. "You know the United Nations, it can drift but we are going to ask for a vote at 6:00 p.m."
Foreign Secretary William Hague said the latest draft of the resolution to be discussed at the U.N. Security Council in New York followed extensive consultations with Lebanon, France, the United States and others.
Draft UN resolution
He said there was no longer anything holding the United States back from supporting a no-fly zone over Libya, where leader Gaddafi's troops are advancing on rebels.
"The (draft U.N. Security Council) resolution that is under discussion today includes demands for an immediate ceasefire, a complete end to violence, a ban on all flights in Libyan air space with the exception of humanitarian flights."
"It would authorize all necessary measures to enforce compliance with this ban," Hague told Britain's parliament.
"It calls for all necessary measures short of an occupation force to protect civilians under threat of attack, including in Benghazi," said Hague, referring to the rebels' stronghold.
Italy "fully" supports the new U.N. Security Council resolution on Libya, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Thursday.
"The international community is trying to get an agreement over a new (U.N.) Security Council resolution, which Italy fully supports, (which) will, I strongly hope, promote immediately a ceasefire... (and) cessation of all the violence that we are seeing in the country," said Frattini on a visit to Bosnia.
The draft resolution includes measures to deny Libyan planes permission to take off, land or overfly the territory of U.N. member states, said Hague, who said he had spoken to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday evening.
The draft also included a variety of measures to enforce the arms embargo on Libya and to tighten the asset freeze and travel ban on members of Gaddafi's government, he said.
Washington, which initially reacted cautiously to calls from the Arab League and permanent Security Council members Britain and France for a no-fly zone over Libya, gave its clearest signal on Wednesday it would back the plan.
"There is nothing now holding them back," Hague said when asked what was preventing U.S. President Barack Obama's administration from supporting a no-fly zone over Libya.
"In fact, yesterday the United States proposed a strengthening of the resolution which the UK and France and Lebanon were putting forward together at the Security Council," he said.
"So the U.S.'s position came out very clearly yesterday at the Security Council."
He also rejected "ridiculous" suggestions that there was a lack of communication between Britain and the United States on the issue, saying there was a "mass of hourly contact."
The French and British have led calls for a no-fly zone, and on Wednesday the United States joined them in putting forward a draft resolution which included the measure.
The U.S. envoy to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said a no-fly zone was one of a "range of actions" that should be contemplated but warned it "has inherent limitations in terms of protection of civilians at immediate risk".
Earlier Thursday, Alistair Burt, a British Foreign Office minister with special responsibility for the Middle East, hailed a "significant change in the position of the White House" on the issue.
"We obviously appreciate that the United States does realize the urgency of the situation."
The situation in Libya "makes it imperative that something is done and something is done today," Burt added.
Russia, Germany and other countries of the 15-member Security Council have expressed opposition or doubts about military action in Libya.
"Time is running out"
NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen, meanwhile, urged the U.N. Security Council to quickly agree a resolution on Libya, warning "time is running out" to stop Gaddafi from prevailing.
"If Gaddafi prevails it will send a clear signal that violence pays. That would be unacceptable from a humanitarian and democratic perspective," Rasmussen said on his Facebook page.
"But time is running out. The sooner the United Nations can reach an agreement the better," he said.
"NATO stands ready to protect the civilian population if there is a demonstrable need, clear legal basis and strong regional support."
Speaking to reporters during a visit to Poland, Rasmussen said that attacks by Gaddafi's regime on civilians "may amount to crimes against humanity."
He said: "It is absolutely outrageous to see the Libyan regime systematically attack its own civilian population."
NATO military officials have drafted a range of plans for a possible role in Libya, including the enforcement of a no-fly zone.
But divisions exist within the 28-nation alliance, with Germany and Turkey voicing opposition to any military intervention in Libya, which could leave NATO on the sidelines in any no-fly zone.
In addition, France, which has taken a hawkish stance in the Libyan crisis, would prefer if NATO stayed out of Libya, a NATO military official said.