The Arab League on Saturday urged the United Nations to slap a 'no-fly' zone on Libya and said Muammar Gaddafi's regime had "lost legitimacy," in a boost for rebels fighting to unseat the strongman.
The pan Arab organisation also announced its recognition of the transitional National Council set up by the rebels in their eastern stronghold of Benghazi and said they would open contact with the group.
Britain and the United States welcomed the 22 member League's support for a 'no-fly' zone over Libya.
Arab foreign ministers concluded crisis talks in Cairo by urging the UN Security Council "to assume its responsibilities in the face of the deteriorating situation in Libya and take the necessary measures to impose an air exclusion zone for Libyan warplanes."
They also called in a resolution for the establishment of safe havens "to protect the Libyan people and all other nationals" living in areas subjected to attacks by Gaddafi forces.
Libyan leader Gaddafi's regime "has lost its legitimacy (because of) the massive and dangerous violations" it has committed, said the resolution adopted after the talks at the League's headquarters in the Egyptian capital. The Arab League will "cooperate... with the (opposition) provisional National Council and provide support and protection for the Libyan people," it said.
The League "remains opposed to foreign intervention" warning, however, that "failure to act to solve the crisis will lead to foreign intervention," the resolution added.
"It is necessary to respect international human rights laws, stop the crimes against the Libyan people, stop the fighting, and withdraw Libyan forces from cities and regions they entered," the resolution said. It insisted that the Libyan people have a "right to achieve their demands" and democracy.
Arab League chief Amr Mussa told reporters that the decision to cooperate with the 30 member Libyan transitional council was de facto "recognition" of the opposition group. "We gave them (the council) legitimacy," Oman's foreign affairs chief, Yussef bin Alawi, told reporters.
Diplomats, earlier, said that nine of the 11 foreign ministers present had backed plans for a 'no-fly' zone.
Algeria and Syria had voted against. Syria's ambassador to the Arab League, Yussef Ahmad, warned at the meeting that a 'no-fly' zone could pave the way for foreign intervention in Libya.
But Mussa himself called for a 'no-fly' zone as proposed by Western countries and said he wanted the pan Arab organisation to play a role in imposing it, in an interview published on Saturday.
"The United Nations, the Arab League, the African Union, the Europeans -- everyone should participate," Mussa told German weekly Der Spiegel. "I am talking about a humanitarian action. It consists, with a no-fly zone, of supporting the Libyan people in their fight for freedom against a regime that is more and more disdainful."
Following the Cairo resolution, White House spokesman Jay Carney said, "We welcome this important step by the Arab League, which strengthens the international pressure on Gaddafi and support for the Libyan people. The international community is unified in sending a clear message that the violence in Libya must stop, and that the Gaddafi regime must be held accountable".
In London, a foreign office spokeswoman described the League backing for the 'no-fly' zone as "very significant". "The outcome of today's Arab League meeting shows Gaddafi's actions do not have support in the region," she said.
The national council on March 5 declared itself Libya's sole representative at its first meeting in Benghazi, the rebel stronghold city in the North African country's east.
Ahead of the crisis talks the group appealed to the League for recognition and urged backing for a 'no-fly' zone to curb attacks on its fighters, in a letter to Mussa.
Britain and France have drawn up a Security Council resolution on a 'no-fly' zone (NFZ) to counter Gaddafi's assault on rebel forces, but the resolution faces opposition from China and Russia.
France, on Thursday, became the first country to recognise Libya's opposition, a move which prompted the Gaddafi regime to suspend its ties with Paris over its "illegal" decision.