Even with weapons and upcoming airstrikes the rebels are on the verge of being wiped out.

CAIRO — Egypt’s military has begun shipping arms over the border to Libyan rebels with Washington’s knowledge, U.S. and Libyan rebel officials said.

The shipments — mostly small arms such as assault rifles and ammunition — appear to be the first confirmed case of an outside government arming the rebel fighters. Those fighters have been losing ground for days in the face of a steady westward advance by forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

The Egyptian shipments are the strongest indication to date that some Arab countries are heeding Western calls to take a lead in efforts to intervene on behalf of pro-democracy rebels in their fight against Mr. Gadhafi in Libya. Washington and other Western countries have long voiced frustration with Arab states’ unwillingness to help resolve crises in their own region, even as they criticized Western powers for attempting to do so.

The shipments also follow an unusually robust diplomatic response from Arab states. There have been rare public calls for foreign military intervention in an Arab country, including a vote by the 23-member Arab League last week urging the U.N. to impose a no-fly zone over Libya.

The vote provided critical political cover to Western powers wary of intervening militarily without a broad regional and international mandate. On Thursday evening, the U.N. Security Council voted on a resolution endorsing a no-fly zone in Libya and authorizing military action in support of the rebels.

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