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Gaddifi's son and three grandchildren killed by NATO air strike
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 Sunday. Libyan officials took journalists to the house, which had been hit by at least three missiles. The roof had completely caved in leaving mangled rods of reinforcing steel hanging down among splintered chunks of concrete.
"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."
NATO denied targeting Gaddafi, or his family, but said it had launched air strikes on military targets in the same area of Tripoli as the bombed site seen by reporters.
"NATO continued its precision strikes against regime military installations in Tripoli overnight, including striking a known command and control building in the Bab al-Aziziyah neighbourhood shortly after 1800 GMT Saturday evening," the alliance said in a statement.
NATO's commander of Libya operations, Canadian Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard, said the target was part of a strategy to hit command centres that threaten civilians.
"All NATO's targets are military in nature ... We do not target individuals," he said in a statement.
Ibrahim 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.
The grandchildren killed were pre-teens, Ibrahim said.
The appearance of an assassination attempt against Gaddafi is likely to lead to accusations that the British and French-led strikes are overstepping the UN mandate to protect civilians.
"I am aware of unconfirmed media reports that some of Gaddafi's family members may have been killed," said Bouchard. "We regret all loss of life."
SECOND CLOSE CALL IN 24 HOURS
Gaddafi, who seized power in a 1969 coup, is fighting an uprising by rebels who have seized much of eastern Libya. He describes the rebels as religious extremists and Western agents who seek to control Libya's oil.
Inside one part of the villa hit late on Saturday, a beige corner sofa was virtually untouched, but debris had caved in on other striped upholstered chairs. The blasts were heard across the city.
A table football machine stood outside in the garden in a wealthy residential area. Glass and debris covered the lawns and what appeared to be an unexploded missile lay in one corner.
It appeared to be the second NATO strike near to Gaddafi in 24 hours. A missile struck near a television station early on Saturday when the Libyan leader was making an address in which he said he would never step down and offered talks to rebels.
The rebels insist they cannot trust Gaddafi. The last few days have seen fierce shelling of rebel outposts in the west. A rebel spokesman in the mountain town of Zintan said government forces has showered the city with up to 30 powerful Grad missiles late in the evening.
Tripoli has also declared a sea blockade on the western outpost of Misrata, potentially robbing the rebels of a vital aid link to their eastern heartland.
"FIGHT AND FIGHT"
Celebratory 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."
The announcement of the attack was made live on state television which later showed Tripoli residents marching on the streets, chanting "the martyr is the beloved of God". Some fired guns into the air.
US White House press secretary Jay Carney said the White House was aware of Libyan media reports Gaddafi's son had been killed and was monitoring the situation.
Gaddafi's daughter was killed in a US air strike in 1986, ordered after a bomb attack on a West Berlin discotheque killed two US servicemen. Washington linked Tripoli to the attack.
"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.
[The world now has a CLEAR and open opportunity to prosecute illegal assassination attempts and State terrorism conducted by the USA and NATO. We shall see what the word INTEGRITY means to the UN and Hague Courts! Meanwhile Russia and China are noted for their FAILURE to ENFORCE strict UN mandates.]
The death of Saif al-Arab Gaddafi, if confirmed, is likely to have come as a consequence of Nato's increasingly aggressive tactics, undertaken by the alliance to shake up a stalemate in the conflict.
But his killing in an air strike is a grievous strategic error - militarily insignificant but diplomatically disastrous.
Towards the end of April, Nato states made a number of operational innovations. Three member states - Britain, France, and Italy - injected military advisers into rebel-held eastern Libya. Another, the US, began continuous patrols of armed drones.
Third, and most important, air strikes began to target command, control, communications and intelligence networks (known, in military parlance, as C3I). The Bab al-Aziziya compound includes all three such networks, and it was presumed that their disruption would disorient regime soldiers on the front line, cut off field commanders from Tripoli, and sow confusion in the ranks.
But was the strike also an assassination attempt?
Assassination of a head of state is illegal under international law, and forbidden by various US presidential orders. On the other hand, the targeted killing of those woven into the enemy chain of command is shrouded in legal ambiguity.
Given the personalistic nature of the regime, and the "all means necessary" clause in UN Resolution 1973, it might be argued that killing Col Muammar Gaddafi and certain members of his family - such as his son Khamis, commander of an elite military brigade - would be permissible, even if it posed a risk to those non-combatants around the regime.
Legality, though, indicates neither legitimacy nor prudence. This strike, and the death of Saif al-Arab, have produced little military result at the greatest diplomatic and symbolic cost to Nato.
Saif al-Arab was, unlike his brothers, not a senior military commander or propagandist. His death is redolent of the 1986 US strike on the same compound.
That raid killed Col Gaddafi's adopted daughter and, in the scarred buildings and craters, furnished him with a long-lasting symbol of defiance.
The propaganda value of such unintended deaths is potentially severe.
In the 1991 Gulf War, a US stealth bomber directed two bombs at what was claimed to be a command-and-control bunker, but was in fact an Iraqi civilian shelter.
The result was 315 deaths, including 130 children. Col Gaddafi, like Saddam Hussein before him, will take every opportunity to exploit such errors to paint Western powers as indiscriminate aggressors.
Moreover, this is no longer a conventional war in which top-down direction is crucial. Pro-Gaddafi forces in both the besieged western city of Misrata and in the east have adapted to Nato's air power and are using increasingly unorthodox tactics.
They need not rely on a stream of detailed orders from Tripoli, and can cause considerable harm to civilians without this guidance.
Nato is understandably frustrated at the diminishing returns of air strikes, since it has destroyed most accessible targets. But killing commanders and disrupting communications is far less important than the key task of degrading heavy military equipment, such as tanks and artillery.
No silver bullet
If the strike had killed Col Gaddafi himself, would it then have been at least a military success?
One of the greatest mistakes of the Iraq war was assuming that, with the departure of Saddam Hussein, the state apparatus could simply be transferred to new ownership.
Col Gaddafi's death could see Saif al-Islam Gaddafi take the reins, galvanise supporters, and continue the war with equal intensity. It would be dangerous and short-sighted to portray even effective assassination as a silver bullet.
Perhaps, though, the demonstration to the regime that no safe haven exists, and that only capitulation would bring security, justified these risks?
There is no doubt that, along with the military aim of disrupting command-and-control hubs, Nato sought a psychological effect, conscious of the possibility of "accidental assassination".
The problem is that the direction of this effect is unclear. The dramatic visual impact of this air strike, and the death of those disconnected from political and military leadership, will harden the diplomatic opposition to the war, from Russia and China amongst others.
More consequentially, it will anger the alliance's warier members, like Germany and Turkey, and inflame parts of Arab and African public opinion.
It may eventually leave Britain and France bearing the military burden alone, with modest but limited assistance from a cagey US administration eager to keep at arm's length from this European war.
Col Gaddafi's overarching strategy has never been to win a conventional war, but to induce symbolically prominent casualties, drive a wedge between more committed and more ambivalent members of the coalition, and knock away the pillars of political support on which this intervention was built.
Thus far, the coalition had sought, rightly, to purchase coalition longevity at the price of campaign intensity. If that balance continues to shift towards the latter, Nato runs the risk of playing into the regime's hands.