The international community was deeply divided over Libya yesterday, just days after the United Nations passed a no-fly resolution that allowed Western air strikes to protect civilians from Muammar Gaddafi’s forces.

Russia and China abstained in Thursday’s Security Council vote on the no-fly zone but issued trenchant criticism of the operation, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin comparing the air campaign to “medieval crusades.” That highly emotive language earned him a rare rebuke from his former protege, Dmitry Medvedev, who said Moscow was open to a peacekeeping role.

The divisions reflect diverse domestic agendas and foreign policy goals.

Arab League chief Amr Moussa said he respected a U.N. resolution authorizing military action in Libya, having questioned at the weekend the need for a heavy bombardment he said had killed civilians.

The Western air campaign, led by France, the United States and Britain, has divided NATO member states with Germany.

The Arab world, too, was divided on the issue. Qatari warplanes have joined the international strike force imposing the no-fly zone. Iraq said it supported international intervention, although influential Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr condemned it and said Western states should avoid civilian casualties.

Rebel support

Libyan rebels said yesterday they aimed to capture the capital Tripoli and force out Muammar Gaddafi.

They welcomed the international action but said they did not want foreign ground forces to intervene in the war.