Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi survived a NATO air strike on a Tripoli house that killed youngest son and three grandchildren, a government spokesman said on Sunday.
Libyan officials took journalists to the house, which had been hit by at least three missiles. The roof had completely caved in in places, leaving mangled rods of reinforcing steel hanging down among splintered chunks of concrete.
“What we have now is the law of the jungle,” government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim told a news conference. “We think now it is clear to everyone that what is happening in Libya has nothing to do with the protection of civilians.”
NATO denied targeting Qaddafi, or his family, but said it had launched air strikes on military targets in the same area of Tripoli as the bombed site seen by reporters.
“NATO continued its precision strikes against regime military installations in Tripoli overnight, including striking a known command and control building in the Bab al-Aziziyah neighbourhood shortly after 1800 GMT Saturday evening,” the alliance said in a statement.
NATO’s commander of Libya operations, Canadian Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard, said the target was part of a strategy to hit command centres that threaten civilians.
“All NATO’s targets are military in nature … We do not target individuals,” he said in a statement.
Ibrahim said Qaddafi’s youngest son, Saif Al-Arab, had been killed in the attack. Saif al-Arab, 29, is one of Qaddafi’s less prominent sons, with a limited role in the power structure. Ibrahim described him as a student who had studied in Germany.
The grandchildren killed were pre-teens, Ibrahim said.
The appearance of an assassination attempt against Qaddafi is likely to lead to accusations that the British- and French-led strikes are overstepping the U.N. mandate to protect civilians.
“I am aware of unconfirmed media reports that some of Qaddafi’s family members may have been killed,” said Bouchard. “We regret all loss of life.”
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a long-time ally of Qaddafi, called it attempted murder.
“There is no doubt the order was given to kill Qaddafi. It doesn’t matter who else is killed, kill Qaddafi … a murder, this is a murder,” he said in Caracas.
Second close call in 24 hours
Qaddafi, who seized power in a 1969 coup, is fighting an uprising by rebels who have seized much of eastern Libya. He describes the rebels as religious extremists and Western agents who seek to control Libya’s oil.
Inside part of the villa hit late on Saturday, a beige sofa was virtually untouched, but debris had caved in on other striped upholstered chairs. The blasts were heard across the city.
A table football machine stood outside in the garden in a wealthy residential area. Glass and debris covered the lawns and what appeared to be an unexploded missile lay in one corner.
It appeared to be the second NATO strike near to Qaddafi in 24 hours. A missile struck near a television station early on Saturday when the Libyan leader was making an address in which he said he would never step down and offered talks to rebels.
The rebels insist they cannot trust Qaddafi. The last few days have seen fierce shelling of rebel outposts in the west. A rebel spokesman in the mountain town of Zintan said government forces has showered the city with up to 30 powerful Grad missiles late in the evening.
Tripoli has also declared a sea blockade on the western outpost of Misrata, potentially robbing the rebels of a vital aid link to their eastern heartland.
“Fight and fight”
Celebratory rifle fire and car horns rang out in the rebels’ eastern capital of Benghazi as news of the attack spread.
“The leader himself is in good health. He wasn’t harmed,” Ibrahim said. “His wife is also in good health.
“This was a direct operation to assassinate the leader of this country. This is not permitted by international law. It is not permitted by any moral code or principle.”
The announcement of the attack was made live on state television which later showed Tripoli residents marching on the streets, chanting “the martyr is the beloved of God”. Some fired guns into the air.
U.S. White House press secretary Jay Carney said the White House was aware of Libyan media reports Qaddafi’s son had been killed and was monitoring the situation.
Qaddafi’s daughter was killed in a U.S. air strike in 1986, ordered after a bomb attack on a West Berlin discotheque killed two U.S. servicemen. Washington linked Tripoli to the attack.
“We will fight and fight if we have to,” Ibrahim said. “The leader offered peace to NATO yesterday and NATO rejected it.”
Fighting in Libya’s civil war, which grew from protests for greater political freedom that have spread across the Arab world, has reached stalemate in recent weeks with neither side capable of achieving a decisive blow.
Libyan forces had reached the gates of Benghazi last month when Qaddafi appeared on television declaring he would crush the rebellion, showing “no pity, no mercy”. Days later the United
Nations passed its resolution allowing the air strikes and saving the rebels from defeat.