Two Libyan air force jets landed in Malta on Monday and their pilots asked for political asylum amid a bloody crackdown on anti-government protesters in Libya, a military source said. The defecting pilots told Maltese authorities they had been ordered to bomb protesters.
But State TV quoted Gadhafi's son, Seif al-Islam, as saying the military conducted airstrikes on remote areas, away from residential neighborhoods, on munitions warehouses, denying reports that warplanes attacked Tripoli and Benghazi.
Al-Jazeera reported earlier that military aircraft had fired live ammunition at crowds of anti-government protesters in Tripoli. The network quoted witnesses for its information.
"What we are witnessing today is unimaginable. Warplanes and helicopters are indiscriminately bombing one area after another. There are many, many dead," Adel Mohamed Saleh said in a live broadcast. "Anyone who moves, even if they are in their car they will hit you."
Warplanes swooped low over Tripoli in the evening and snipers took up position on roofs, apparently to stop people outside the capital from joining protests, according to Mohammed Abdul-Malek, a London-based opposition activist in touch with residents.
Communications to the capital appeared to have been cut, and residents could not be reached by phone from outside the country.
An analyst for London-based consultancy Control Risks said the reported air attacks indicated the end was near for Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
"These really seem to be last, desperate acts. If you're bombing your own capital, it's really hard to see how you can survive, " its Middle East anaylst Julien Barnes-Dacey said.
Libya's ambassadors at the United Nations also called Monday for Gaddafi to step down as the country's ruler. Deputy Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi said that if Gaddafi does not reliqniquish power, "the Libyan people will get rid of him."
Dabbashi accused Gaddafi of committing genocide against his own people and urged the international community to impose a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent mercenaries, weapons and other supplies from reaching the leaders and his security forces.
The diplomat added that the Libyan delegation is also urging the International Criminal Court to investigate possible crimes against humanity committed against the Libyan people during the current protests.
There were other reports of ambassadors abroad defecting. Libya's former ambassador to the Arab League in Cairo, Abdel-Moneim al-Houni, who resigned his post Sunday to side with protesters, demanded Gaddafi and his commanders and aides be put on trial for "the mass killings in Libya."
"Gaddafi's regime is now in the trash of history because he betrayed his nation and his people," al-Houni said in a statement.
A Libyan diplomat in China, Hussein el-Sadek el-Mesrati, told Al-Jazeera, "I resigned from representing the government of Mussolini and Hitler."
The eruption of turmoil in the capital after seven days of protests and bloody clashes in Libya's eastern cities sharply escalated the challenge to Gaddafi. His security forces have unleashed the bloodiest crackdown of any Arab country against the wave of protests sweeping the region, which toppled the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia. At least 233 people have been killed so far, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, visiting neighboring Egypt, called the Libyan government's crackdown "appalling."
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned violence in Libya and called on the Libyan government to respect the rights of its people. "We join the international community in strongly condemning the violence in Libya," she said in a statement. "Now is the time to stop this unacceptable bloodshed."
The Libyan government has a responsibility to respect the universal rights of its people, including the right to free expression and assembly, Clinton said.
The US State Department also warned Embassy family members to leave the embattled country, saying protests, violence and looting were possible during the next several days.
"Demonstrations have degenerated on several occasions into violent clashes between security forces and protesters, resulting in injuries and deaths," the State Department said in its warning.
The move comes amid conflicting reports in the region, including one that Gaddafi was en route to Venezuela, a claim that government in Caracas denied.
AP and Reuters contributed to this report