Tripoli: Muammar Gaddafi's government has hit back at an International Criminal Court arrest warrant for war crimes against the veteran Libyan leader, charging that the tribunal was just a tool of European powers.

On the ground, rebel fighters on Tuesday launched an attack on an arms depot held by pro-Gaddafi forces in a desert area 25 kilometres (15 miles) from the hilltown of Zintan, southwest of Tripoli.

Human rights bodies and the West, meanwhile, hailed the ICC's move on Monday that came on the 100th day of a NATO bombing campaign.

Libya rejected the warrants issued for Gaddafi, 69, his son Seif al-Islam, 39 and the head of Libyan intelligence, Abdullah al-Senussi, 62 for atrocities committed in a bloody uprising that began mid-February.

The ruling is a "cover for NATO which is still trying to assassinate Gaddafi", said Libya's justice minister, Mohammed al-Gamudi.

Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaaim said that the ICC "functions as a European foreign policy vehicle. It is a political court which serves its European paymasters," he said, adding, "Our own courts will deal with  any human rights abuses and other crimes committed in the course of conflict in Libya."
   
In the latest fighting in the Berber mountains, government troops fired Grad rockets as rebels in armoured cars circled a zone near Zintan with buildings used as depots for arms, which anti-Gaddafi forces need for any advance on Tripoli.

NATO warplanes have repeatedly struck the area over the past two months.

ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo sought the warrants as thousands died in fighting and an estimated 650,000 people fled the country with Gaddafi clinging to power despite NATO strikes easing the siege of key rebel cities.

(Agencies)