Crowds have rallied at the Tripoli compound of Moammar Gadhafi, after the government said the Libyan leader narrowly escaped a NATO airstrike that killed one of his sons and three grandchildren. NATO denies any individuals were targeted.
Supporters of Colonel Gadhafi demanded vengeance after the government announced the death of Saif al-Arab Gadhafi, and three of the leader's grandchildren.
The crowds of protesters also effectively served as a human shield for the colonel, who government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said was in Saif al-Arab's Tripoli home when it was hit.
"The leader with his wife was there in the house with other friends and relatives. The attack resulted in the martyrdom of brother Saif al-Arab Gadhafi, 29 year old and three of the leader's grandchildren. The leader himself is in good health. He was not harmed," said Ibrahim.
Foreign journalists were taken to a heavily damaged one story house in a residential neighborhood said to be the scene of the attack.
It was apparently the Colonel Gadhafi's second brush with death in a day, with a NATO strike early Saturday landing near a television studio where he was delivering an address.
The attacks raised speculation that the NATO-led campaign has moved beyond its U.N. mandate to protect Libyan civilians from government attack. Spokesman Ibrahim stated bluntly that Gadhafi was being targeted.
"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 commander of operations in Libya, Canadian General Charles Bouchard, said he was aware of unconfirmed reports and expressed regret for all loss of life. But he said NATO does not target individuals, and that all strikes have been on places clearly linked to the government's "systematic attacks on the Libyan population."
Those attacks have not diminished, despite Colonel Gadhafi's offer of yet another cease fire Saturday. In addition to the government's siege of the rebel-held town of Misrata and the attempted blockade of its harbor, there are new reports of attacks on another western town, Zintan.
Fighting has reached a stalemate in recent weeks, with neither the government, nor the rebels and NATO-led coalition able to decisively turn the battle.
The conflict, which began in mid-February as popular protests, has been accompanied by a progressive hardening of emotions among Libyans. On the streets of the rebels’ de facto capital, Benghazi, reports of the death of Saif al-Arab, one of the most private members of the Gadhafi family, were greeted with celebratory gunfire and calls for a similar fate for his father.
A man who gave his name as Majid expressed joy at the news, adding the "big joy" will be the day the Libyan leader is killed.
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