TRIPOLI, May 1 – A NATO air strike killed Libyan leader Moamer Gadhafi\’s youngest son and three grandchildren, a spokesman said Sunday, after rebels and NATO dismissed an offer for talks to end the crisis.
The house of Seif al-Arab Gadhafi, 29, "was attacked tonight with full power," government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim told a news conference announcing the deaths in the Saturday evening strikes.
The Libyan strongman and his wife were in the building that was hit, but were not harmed, Ibrahim said, though others present were killed or wounded in what he deemed "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," he added.
Ibrahim later said intelligence on Gadhafi\’s whereabouts appeared to have been "leaked."
"They knew about him being there, or expected him for some reason," the spokesman said.
NATO said it had staged airstrikes in Tripoli but did not confirm the Libyan claims. There was no immediate confirmation of the deaths either. At least three missiles had been heard exploding loudly over the capital earlier as jets flew overhead.
The transatlantic military alliance "continued its precision strikes against Gadhafi regime military installations in Tripoli overnight, including striking a known command and control building in the Bab al-Azizya neighbourhood shortly after 1800 GMT Saturday evening," a statement said.
Automatic gunfire, apparently in mourning, echoed across the capital following the announcement, while state TV showed flag-waving demonstrators whom it said turned out to mourn Seif al-Arab\’s death.
Overjoyed rebels fired rockets, Kalashnikovs, TNT and 12.5 anti-aircraft machine guns for more than a half an hour, rocking the rebel capital of Benghazi with sustained gunfire and explosions to mark the moment.
"They are so happy that Gadhafi lost his son in an air strike that they are shooting in celebration," said Colonel Ahmed Omar Bani, military spokesman of the Libyan opposition Transitional Nation Council (TNC) headquartered in the eastern city.
Cars whizzed by the seafront beeping their horns as people shouted "God is greatest" below a night sky lit up by red tracer fire.
Ibrahim had earlier taken journalists to the remnants of a heavily damaged house in Tripoli, hinting but not explicitly indicating this was the one in which Kadhafi\’s son had died.
Long, twisted rods of reinforcing steel bars stuck out of large chunks of blasted concrete lay in and around the structure. In some areas, the roof had caved in completely and walls had collapsed. A thick layer of dark grey dust covered the grounds.
Given the level of destruction, it was unclear that anyone could have survived, raising the possibility that if Gadhafi was there, he had left beforehand.
NATO vowed to stage more strikes, though the commander of NATO\’s Operation Unified Protector stressed 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," added Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard.
In a speech on state television Saturday, Kadhafi had said NATO "must abandon all hope of his departure."
"I have no official functions to give up: I will not leave my country and will fight to the death," he said.
But he added a conciliatory note: "We are ready to talk with France and the United States, but with no preconditions.
"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.
"Between Libyans, we can solve our problems without being attacked, so pull back your fleets and your planes," he told NATO.
His call was dismissed by the TNC, which has shaped itself into a parallel government in Benghazi, and by NATO.
"The time for compromise has passed," said TNC vice chairman Abdul Hafiz Ghoga.
"The people of Libya cannot possibly envisage or accept a future Libya in which Gadhafi\’s regime plays any role."
In Brussels, a NATO official also rejected talks.
"We need to see not words but actions," the official told AFP.
The regime threatened to attack any ships trying to enter the rebel-held port of Misrata, after tanks launched an assault on the city east of Tripoli.
Misrata\’s port is a crucial conduit for humanitarian aid to the city of half a million, which Gadhafi\’s forces have been trying to capture for more than seven weeks.
The fighting in Misrata has intensified 10 weeks after government forces launched a deadly crackdown on protests inspired by regime-changing movements in Tunisia and Egypt.
An AFP correspondent there said 10 people had been killed and 20 wounded by mid-afternoon, with witnesses saying as many as five tanks were seeking to advance on the city from the airport.
Loyalist forces were pushed back from Misrata by the rebels and NATO air strikes on 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 delivery of humanitarian aid to Misrata should now be carried out "overland and under the supervision of the armed forces."
British Brigadier Rob Weighill, director of NATO operations in Libya, said NATO warships stopped Gadhafi forces from laying mines in Misrata harbour on Friday.
In Benghazi, rebels said loyalists had stormed the eastern oasis town of Jalo, several hundred kilometres south, and killed five people.
"It seems Gadhafi is trying to open another front in the south," said a rebel source, while TNC spokesman Jalal al-Gallal worried that the attack was "not a great sign."
The rebels said the troops that entered Jalo were the same ones that on Thursday swept into Kufrah, which lies hundreds of kilometres farther south.
Kufrah is the main city in Kufrah province in the southeastern corner of the country, bordering Chad, Sudan and Egypt.
In western Libya, NATO said its warplanes would focus on regime forces threatening the towns of Zintan and Yefren, scenes of heavy fighting.
Meanwhile, rebels were expecting a new Gadhafi offensive for control of the Dehiba border crossing into Tunisia, witnesses said on Saturday, a day after they retook it from loyalists in fierce fighting.