French President Nicolas Sarkozy has called for air strikes on Libya if Gaddafi turns his military force on innocent civilians, The Guardian reports.

Sarkozy told the EU summit that air strikes could be justified if the dictator unleashed chemical weapons or air strikes against non-combatants.

“The strikes would be solely of a defensive nature if Mr Gaddafi makes use of chemical weapons or air strikes against non-violent protesters,” Sarkozy said, but added that he had “many reservations” on military or NATO intervention in Libya “because Arab revolutions belong to Arabs”.

He said he and British Prime Minister David Cameron were in agreement and that they were “ready on condition that the UN wishes, that the Arab League accepts and the Libyan opposition agrees, for targeted actions if Mr Gaddafi uses chemical weapons or air strikes against peaceful citizens”.

Downing Street sources declined to comment on Sarkozy’s remarks but Cameron has long supported a no fly-zone over Libya to level the playing field between Gaddafi’s military might and the less well-armed rebels fighting to unseat him.

However key EU members including EU foreign policy chief, Lady Ashton, oppose Nato’s use of military intervention and warned that a no-fly zone could risk civilian lives.

One EU diplomat said: “The risks are high for potential civilian casualties and potential collateral damage. The efficiency of a no-fly zone is very questionable. Apart from anything else, European command and control facilities would not be able to get a no-fly zone up and running in less than five or six weeks, and Nato is suggesting it would take at least three to four weeks.”

“The question is whether, in political terms, a no-fly zone can achieve what you want it to achieve.”

The EU debate drags on just as the tide seems to be turning for pro-Gaddafi forces. In recent days they have made significant gains in the strategic oil port of Ras Lanuf  and Gaddafi’s eldest son Saif al-Islam vowed to continue pushing rebels further east. “I have a message from Tripoli I want to send to our families and our brothers in the east,” the Los Angles Times reports.

Gaddafi soldiers beat up BBC journalists

Cameron wants no-fly zone over Libya