TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi survived a NATO air strike on a Tripoli house that killed his youngest son and three grandchildren, a government spokesman said on Saturday.
“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.”
Gaddafi, who seized power in a 1969 coup, is fighting an uprising by rebels who have seized much of the eastern part of the country. British and French-led NATO forces are permitted under a United Nations resolution to mount air attacks on Gaddafi forces to protect civilians.
There was no immediate NATO reaction or any independent confirmation of the deaths. Gaddafi had appeared on television in the early hours of Saturday and said he would never step down. He offered talks to the rebels, who rejected the proposal as hollow and treacherous.
Libya’s government took journalists to the house, which had been hit by at least three missiles. The roof had completely caved in in some areas, leaving mangled rods of reinforcing steel hanging down among chunks of concrete.
A table football machine stood outside in the garden of the house, in a wealthy residential area of Tripoli. Glass and debris covered the lawns and what appeared to be an unexploded missile lay in one corner.
Inside one part of the villa, a beige corner sofa was virtually untouched, but debris had caved in on other striped upholstered chairs. The blasts had been heard across the city late on Saturday.
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.”
He said Gaddafi’s youngest son, Saif Al-Arab, had been killed in the attack. Saif al-Arab, 29, is one of Gaddafi’s less prominent sons, with a limited role in the power structure. Ibrahim described him as a student who had studied in Germany.
“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 Gaddafi 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.
Additional reporting by Tarek Amara and Abdelaziz Boumzar in Dehiba, Deepa Babington and Michael Georgy in Benghazi, Matthew Tostevin in Tunis; Writing by Ralph Boulton; Editing by Jon Hemming