LONDON (Reuters) - The British and Italian embassies in Tripoli have been attacked, prompting Britain to expel the Libyan ambassador, the two countries said on Sunday.
“I condemn the attacks on the British Embassy premises in Tripoli as well as the diplomatic missions of other countries,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement.
He added that Libya had breached its international obligation to protect diplomatic missions in Tripoli.
“As a result, I have taken the decision to expel the Libyan ambassador,” he said, noting that the official, Omar Jelban, had 24 hours to leave Britain.
A spokeswoman at Britain’s foreign ministry added that the damage was “severe.” “Initial reports indicate it was caused by fire and both the embassy building and the (UK) ambassador’s residence have been damaged,” she told Reuters.
The Italian foreign ministry also said in a statement “there were attacks of vandalism against the buildings of a number of foreign embassies in Tripoli, including the Italian embassy.”
In February Britain announced that it had closed its embassy in Tripoli and evacuated embassy staff because of the “deteriorating situation” in Libya.
Then in March Britain expelled five Libyan diplomats in protest at the Libyan authorities’ actions and because they could pose a threat to national security.
The Libyan government said on Sunday that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi survived a NATO air strike on Saturday night on a Tripoli house that killed his youngest son Saif al-Arab and three grandchildren.
Britain has been in the forefront of the international campaign against Gaddafi, including launching air strikes against his forces and calling for him to relinquish power.
For its part Italy, the former colonial power and previously one of Gaddafi’s best friends in Europe, has recognized the rebel Provisional Transitional Council as the legitimate authority in Libya and called on Gaddafi to go.
Reporting by Olesya Dmitracova in London and James Mackenzie in Rome; Additional reporting by Adrian Croft in London; Editing by Louise Ireland