British Government was on Monday struggling to contain a growing trans-Atlantic row over the legality of targeting the Libyan leader Mummar Qadhafi after Defence Secretary Liam Fox suggested that he was a legitimate target.

Mr. Fox told the BBC that taking out Col Qaddhafi was ``potentially a possibility’’. He said there was ``a difference between someone being a legitimate target and whether you would go ahead with targeting’’.

His remarks drew a sharp reaction from the US Defence Secretary Robert Gates who said such a move would be ``unwise’’. He made clear that there was no question of ``going after’’ the Libyan leader.

"The one thing that there is common agreement on are the terms set forth in the Security Council resolution. If we start adding additional objectives then I think we create a problem in that respect,’’ Mr. Gates said.

Confusion prevailed with officials speaking in conflicting voices. Chief of the armed forces, Gen Sir David Richards, insisted that Col Qadhafi was "absolutely not" a target and that it was not allowed under the UN mandate. But Sky News claimed that according to a senior military source Col Qaddhafi was a "legitimate military target". The BBC also quoted ``government sources’’ as saying it would be legal to target him if he threatened civilians.

Foreign Secretary William Hague said the military operation would be "nothing more, nothing less" than what was permitted under the UN Security Council resolution but he did not rule out attacking Col Qadhafi saying he did not want to "speculate on the targets".

"The targeting that we do in these kind of strikes will always be in accordance with the UN resolution, with an emphasis on protecting civilians. I'm not going to get into details of who or what might be targeted... all the things that are allowed depends on how people behave."

Prime Minister David Cameron was set to be confronted with the issue during a debate in the Commons later on Monday. A group of MPs from his coalition partner, the Liberal Democrat party, gave notice of a motion criticising the military intervention.

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