The Arab League decided Saturday to support a no-fly zone in Libya, paving the way for Western countries to decide whether to move forward with the plan.
The decision, announced on Egyptian state television, ends weeks of debate among Arab nations, overcoming widespread resistance to the idea of Western intervention in an Arab state.
Egyptian state television said the Arab League also decided to open channels of communication with a Libyan rebel council based in the eastern city of Benghazi and to formally recognize the council as the representative of the Libyan people.
The league's secretary-general, Amr Moussa, was quoted in the German weekly Der Spiegel as advocating a no-fly zone in advance of the meeting, though he conceded it wasn't clear who would impose it and how.
"I am talking about a humanitarian action," Moussa said. "It is about standing by the Libyan people with a no-fly zone in their fight for freedom against an increasingly inhumane regime."
The Arab League does not have the ability to impose the no-fly zone itself, but the decision is seen as an essential first step before the European Union, the United Nations and the United States move forward with official considerations of the proposal.
The 22-member league represents most Arab countries in the region, and its meeting in Cairo on Saturday was attended by the European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton.
The Obama administration has publicly resisted a no-fly zone, saying it might require airstrikes on Libyan air bases and, in the end, might have limited impact.
Rebel spokeswoman Tahani Suleiman strongly endorsed the idea of a no-fly zone, and he had met with Moussa in advance of Saturday's meeting, the Associated Press reported.