Tripoli: Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and his wife survived a NATO air strike that killed his youngest son Saif al-Arab Gaddafi and three grandchildren.

Hours after NATO rejected Gaddafi's offer for ‘a ceasefire and negotiations,’ Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said on Sunday that the house of Saif al-Arab, one of the Libyan dictator's seven sons, was attacked on Saturday night with full power.

"This was a direct operation to assassinate the leader of this country. This is not permitted by international law nor it is permitted by any moral code or principle. What we have now is the law of the jungle," Ibrahim said.

68-year-old Gaddafi and his wife were present in the house with other friends and relatives, Ibrahim said. "The leader is in good health, and wasn't harmed."

Ibrahim claimed that the attack resulted in ‘the martyrdom of brother Saif al-Arab Muammar Gaddafi, 29 years old, and three of the leader's grandchildren."

Acknowledging that it had carried out the air strike, NATO, however, did not deny or confirm the reported deaths.
A NATO spokesman said the strike had hit a ‘known command and control building in the Bab al-Azizya neighbourhood’.

“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. We do not target individuals," said Lt Gen Charles Bouchard, commander of NATO's Operation Unified Protector.

The attack on the villa in the Bab al-Aziziya compound was the second attempt by NATO to target Gaddafi in 24 hours. NATO air strikes on Saturday had hit a site close to the television building while Gaddafi was making a TV address in which he offered talks but vowed not to quit.

Ibrahim did not give the names of children for privacy reasons but said they were nieces and nephews of Saif al-Arab and were younger than 12.

On the attack, the spokesman said, “It seems there was intelligence that was leaked. They knew about something. They expected him (Gaddafi) for some reason. But the target was very clear, very, very clear."

"We regret all loss of life, especially the innocent civilians being harmed as a result of the ongoing conflict," Bouchard said.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said NATO's targeting policy was ‘in line with the UN resolution’.

"It is about preventing a loss of civilian life by targeting Gaddafi's war-making machine, guns obviously tanks and rocket launchers, but also command and control," he said.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said  last week that the command and control centres of the Libyan regime were "legitimate" targets, although he said NATO was not seeking to assassinate Gaddafi.

Saif al-Arab is one of the most unknown of the Libyan leader's children, Al Jazeera said. "He has been largely invisible since the conflict began" in February, it said.

Libyan officials said Saif al-Arab's house had been hit by at least three missiles.

In a video telecast by the satellite channel, Libyan officials showed reporters what they said was the destroyed house, a large crater, crumbled concrete and twisted metal.

In their reaction, rebels in Benghazi said they cannot trust Gaddafi. Al-Jazeera said there were ‘an awful lot’ of suggestions in Libya's rebel-held eastern region that the news of the deaths could be fabricated.

One of the main spokesmen for the opposition Transitional National Council, Abdul Hafez Goga, said he thinks "it could all be fabrication, that it may well be Gaddafi is trying to garner some sympathy."

Media reports said several powerful explosions rocked the port as NATO air strikes targetted Libyan forces in the city besieged by pro-Gaddfi troops for over seven weeks, eleven people were feared killed on Saturday.

On the diplomatic front, the conflict has brought out the growing division among the international community, with Russia and China critical of the targeting Libyan regime by NATO air strikes.

Moscow and Beijing have described the air strikes as being outside the mandate of UNSC resolution that authorized the 'no fly' zone in Libya to protect the civilians. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton plans to travel to Rome to attend a key meeting of the Libya Contact Group from May 4 to May 6 on the ongoing implementation of UN Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973.

(Agencies)