British, Italian missions torched as Gaddafi’s son killed

Italy has boosted security checks after Libyan leader threatened retaliation.

Updated: May 02, 2011, 00:37 AM IST

Tripoli: Demonstrators torched British and Italian diplomatic buildings in Tripoli on Sunday, after Libya accused NATO of trying to assassinate Muammar Gaddafi in an attack that killed one of his sons and three grandchildren.

And the port in the besieged rebel-held city of Misrata was set ablaze in a deadly bombardment by forces loyal to the Libyan strongman, witnesses said.

Libyan government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim told reporters in Tripoli that the house of Gaddafi`s second-youngest son, Saif al-Arab, "was attacked tonight with full power”.

"The attack resulted in the martyrdom of brother Saif al-Arab Moamer Gaddafi, 29 years old, and three of the leader`s grandchildren," who were not identified.

NATO said it kept up precision raids on military installations in Tripoli on Saturday night, "including striking a known command-and-control building in the Bab al-Aziziya neighbourhood shortly after 1800 GMT."

Gaddafi and his wife were in the building with his son but were not harmed, Ibrahim said, calling the strike "a direct operation to assassinate the leader of this country."

"The leader himself is in good health; he wasn`t harmed. His wife is also in good health; she wasn`t harmed, (but) other people were injured," the spokesman added.

Ibrahim later said intelligence on Gaddafi`s whereabouts appeared to have been "leaked”.

"They knew about him being there, or expected him for some reason."

Gaddafi lost an adopted baby daughter in a US air raid in 1986.

Hours after the latest attacks, angry demonstrators set fire to the Italian embassy and the residences of the Italian and British ambassadors in Tripoli, a correspondent said, adding no one was in the buildings at the time.

In the afternoon, smoke could still be seen rising from the buildings, located in the same street as Libyan state television.

Rome and London both confirmed their missions had been targeted, and British Foreign Secretary William Hague announced the expulsion of the Libyan ambassador in response.

In London, Hague said: "I condemn the attacks on the British embassy premises in Tripoli as well as the diplomatic missions of other countries."

"The Vienna Convention requires the Gaddafi regime to protect diplomatic missions in Tripoli. By failing to do so that regime has once again breached its international responsibilities and obligations.”

"I take the failure to protect such premises very seriously indeed."

The Italian foreign minister denounced what it called "grave and vile actions”.

Britain had recalled its envoy to Tripoli at the start of the conflict in February, and Italy shut down its mission in March.

Earlier Sunday, Italy boosted security checks, a day after Gaddafi threatened retaliation over the Rome government`s decision to join the NATO-led air strikes.

Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said Gaddafi`s threat to "bring the battle to Italy" should not be under-estimated, but Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said the threats had "nothing credible" about them.

British Prime Minister David Cameron called NATO`s targeting policy "in line" with the UN resolution authorising the Libya campaign with the declared aim of protecting civilians.

But Russia called for an immediate ceasefire and said it had "serious doubts" the West was not targeting Gaddafi and his family.

"The claims of the coalition members that strikes over Libya do not have the physical destruction of Muammar Gaddafi and members of his family as their goal cause serious doubts," the Foreign Ministry said.

Libyan state TV showed flag-waving demonstrators it said were mourning Saif al-Arab`s death, and it showed senior Muslim and Christian clerics "presenting their condolences" as they stood before four bodies covered by sheets.

The Roman Catholic Bishop of Tripoli, Giovanni Martinelli, later confirmed to an Italian television that Seif al-Arab had been killed.

Martinelli appealed to NATO, the United Nations and international community to end the bombing of Libya. "I ask, please, out of respect for the pain due to the loss of a son, a gesture of humanity towards the leader," he said.

On a guided visit on Sunday, Ibrahim showed journalists a heavily-damaged house in the Gharghour area where the attack took place.

Ibrahim speculated that the Libyan leader himself may have survived because he was in one of the outlying areas of the compound, which received lighter damage.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation vowed more strikes, although the commander of Operation Unified Protector stressed in a statement that "we do not target individuals."

"All NATO`s targets are military in nature and have been clearly linked to the ... regime`s systematic attacks on the Libyan population and populated areas," said Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard.

He said the raids would carry on until all attacks and threats against civilians ceased and all of Gaddafi`s forces, "including his snipers, mercenaries and paramilitary forces have verifiably withdrawn to their bases, and until there is full, free and unhindered access to humanitarian aid to all those in Libya who need it."

In Misrata, which Gaddafi`s forces have been trying to retake for nearly two months, the port was in flames on Sunday after heavy bombardment which killed at least two people, witnesses said.

Gaddafi`s regime has already threatened to attack ships trying to dock in the port, a crucial conduit for humanitarian aid to the city of half a million.

Early on Sunday a salvo of rockets had hit the city, and a correspondent said two rebels had been killed and five wounded when a mortar round hit their house on the outskirts of Misrata.

Later, dozens of rockets struck the port, especially the main entrance, guarded by rebels, residents and journalists said, adding that two more rebels had died.

Loyalist forces were pushed back from Misrata by the rebels and air strikes last Monday, with the rebels saying they had secured the port and their next objective was the airport.

But state television said the military had "put the port out of service," and that humanitarian aid to Misrata should now be delivered "overland and under the supervision of the armed forces."

On Saturday, Gaddafi said NATO "must abandon all hope of his departure," adding that he would "not leave my country and will fight to the death."

But the veteran leader of Libya also proposed talks with France and the United States, without preconditions, an offer that was rejected by NATO and the rebels.

"We will not surrender, but I call on you to negotiate. If you want petrol, we will sign contracts with your companies -- it is not worth going to war over.”

Rebel TNC vice chairman Abdul Hafiz Ghoga responded by saying "the time for compromise has passed”.

“The people of Libya cannot possibly envisage or accept a future Libya in which Gaddafi`s regime plays any role," he said.

Bureau Report