The head of UK armed forces, Gen Sir David Richards, has said Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi is “absolutely not” a target for military action.
He said it was not allowed under the UN resolution which authorises military action to protect civilians in Libya.
But, amid signs of differences over the legal situation, government sources said it would be legal to target Col Gaddafi if he threatened civilians.
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has warned such a move would be “unwise”.
Gen Richards, Chief of the Defence Staff, told the BBC he was “delighted” that RAF Tornados aborted their mission because civilians were in the target area as Col Gaddafi was trying to set a “propaganda trap”.
“We’re very very alert to our responsibilities to the civilian population,” Gen Richards said.
Asked whether Col Gaddafi could become a target himself, he said: “No, absolutely not. It’s not allowed under the UN resolution and it’s not something I want to discuss any further.”
The issue was first raised in an interview with BBC Radio 5 live on Sunday when UK Defence Secretary Dr Fox was asked whether Col Gaddafi himself was a legitimate target