Anti-Qaddafi rebels continued to lose ground to government loyalists today, as the eastern town of Brega fell and a mass exodus began toward Benghazi. Meanwhile, the Arab League has asked the UN Security Council to impose a no-fly zone over the country.

After Brega fell, Libyan state television announced, chillingly, that the town had been "cleansed." The Times' Anthony Shadid reports on the overall mood among the rebels, who, if ultimately defeated, face an uncertain and scary future:

Everyone here seems to have a gun these days, in a lawlessness tempered only by revolutionary ebullience. Young men at the front parade with the swagger that a rocket-propelled grenade launcher grants but hint privately that they will try to emigrate if they fail. Anti-American sentiments build, as rebels complain of Western inaction. And the hint of radicalization — religious or something more nihilist — gathers as the momentum in the three-week conflict clearly shifts to the forces of one of the world's most bizarre leaders.

Speaking to residents in the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi, the Guardian found residents there still fearful of Qaddafi's closest confidant, the brutal, twice-mayor Huda Ben Amer:

"If we lose, Huda Ben Amer will hang all of us," said Walid Malak, an engineer turned revolutionary who has armed himself with a Kalashnikov plundered from a military base abandoned by Gaddafi's forces. "Everyone in Benghazi knows it's them or us."

Even if NATO decides to impose a no-fly zone over Libya, it could be too late for the rebels. With only France and Britain fully on board with taking such action, finding a consensus among member states could still prove difficult. Still, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said yesterday, "If we are directed to impose a no-fly zone, we have the resources to do it." And in the event that a no-fly zone fails to stop Qaddafi's advance, it's highly unlikely we'll see foreign soldiers on the ground supporting the rebels.

Signs of a Western hand in the revolt in Libya, even if just logistical, have spooked the nations that might take part. Any sort of intervention could be used by Qaddafi — and others in the region — for propaganda purposes on a continent still haunted by colonialism. But regardless of anyone's stance on the issue of a no-fly zone or limited intervention, terrified and brutalized refugees continue to flee Libya as a humanitarian crisis grows by the minute. We owe it to the multinational refugees trying to leave Libya, and the innocents caught in the crossfire, to do something substantial... now.

[Image via AP]