The Obama administration announced plans Tuesday to release up to $1.5 billion in frozen Libyan funds to the rebel alliance, money that could be available for humanitarian relief within days.

The money, a fraction of the estimated $30 billion in Libyan assets held in U.S.-controlled accounts, would be specifically earmarked for restoring essential services to Libyan civilians and helping the Transitional National Council set up the rudiments of a government in Tripoli, administration officials said. The funds have been frozen by U.N. sanctions against the government of Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi.

“We want to give this money back to the TNC for its use, first and foremost, to meet humanitarian needs and to help it establish a secure, stable government,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

She said the administration would seek U.N. approval for the release the money, and it was hoped that the process would be complete “in the coming days.”

Opposition leaders have complained for months about slow progress in releasing Libyan money to the alliance. Only about a tenth of the U.S.-controlled $30 billion is held in liquid accounts that can be readily dispersed, and freeing any of the money requires extensive legal and diplomatic maneuvering.

U.S. officials say money is critically needed now to restore electricity and water and provide food and medical services.

“We have every expectation that if this money is released, it will be used well and it will get to the people who need it,” Nuland said.