European Union foreign policy Chief Catherine Ashton pledged support for rebels in east Libya, Reuters reported on Sunday.

It was the senior most visit to the area by a foreign official since the revolt against Muammar Gaddafi began. At Benghazi, where she opened an EU representative office, Ashton said, We are here for the long term and what we can offer is support to Libyan institutions and the economy. We will be here to support you all the way, the report stated.

Libya's weakly trained and equipped rebels have been backed by France, Britain and other European states against the government ruling for over four decades.

Ashton on her visit said that protecting civilians and the people of Libya is fundamental. She also said that too many people have died already making it more important to realize that Gaddafi should leave.

Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the head of the Benghazi-based National Transitional Council, when asked to comment on Ashton's visit said it shows the increased support of the European Union in supporting Libyan rebels to have a democratic and free State. The Libyan people appreciate this visit and appreciate the European Union for supporting the revolution, he said, the report stated.

French planes were among the first to bomb Gaddafi's forces in March after the UN approved foreign intervention to protect civilians. Libyan rebels surrounded her in the city flashing V-for-Victory signs, said the report.

However, Libyan foreign ministry has denounced the visit saying that the visit itself gives the impression of recognition of an illegal entity. He said in a statement on the state news agency Jana that the visit aims to divide Libya . The ministry seemed very unhappy about Ashton's visit and said that the UN must be looking for peaceful ways of finding a solution to the ongoing crisis in the country.

To save the blood of Libyans and strengthen the unity of Libya and its territorial integrity in accordance with the U.N. Security Council resolutions, the Libyan Foreign Ministry said. It added that it would take up this matter at a forthcoming African Union extraordinary meeting on Wednesday and Thursday, Reuters reported.