Scepticism surrounds 'Gaddafi son's death'

Benghazi celebrates report of Gaddafi son's death in air strike, as UK and Italy condemn attacks on their embassies.

    Libyans in the opposition stronghold of Benghazi have taken to the streets to celebrate the government's announcement of the death of Muammar Gaddafi's youngest son in an air strike, but growing scepticism remains over the veracity of the news.

    Gaddafi and his wife were in the Tripoli house of his 29-year-old son, Saif al-Arab Gaddafi, when it was hit by at least one missile fired by a NATO warplane late on Saturday, Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said on Sunday.

    Al-Arab's compound in Tripoli’s Garghour neighbourhood was attacked "with full power" in a "direct operation to assassinate the leader of this country", Ibrahim said, calling the strike a violation of international law.

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    "What we have now is the law of the jungle," he 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."

    Ibrahim had earlier taken journalists to the remnants of a house in Tripoli, which Libyan officials said had been hit by at least three missiles. It appeared unlikely anyone inside could have survived.

    No NATO confirmation

    The strike drew criticism from Russia, which accused NATO of going beyond its UN mandate to protect civilians. 

    "More and more facts indicate that the aim of the anti-Libyan coalition is the physical destruction of Gaddafi,'' Konstantin Kosachyov, a Russian lawmaker who often serves as a spokesman for the Kremlin's views on foreign affairs, said.

    NATO continued strikes against military installations in the Libyan capital, including one on a known command and control building in the Bab al-Aziziya neighbourhood, but it could not confirm the deaths of some of Gaddafi's family members, Carmen Romero, the deputy NATO spokeswoman in Brussels, told Al Jazeera by phone.

    NATO targets do not include individuals, as they are military in nature and clearly linked to the regime's systematic attacks on Libyans, Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard, commander of NATO's Operation Unified Protector, said earlier on Sunday in a statement.

    "This was a military target and we cannot confirm who was there," Romero emphasised, dismissing questions over the target site being a family home.

    UK prime minister David Cameron echoed NATO's stance on the western coalition forces’ targeting policy, and refused to comment on an "unconfirmed report".

    'Embassies vandalised'

    The comments came as clashes continued in several parts of Libya, with reports of vandalism on the British and Italian embassies in the capital.

    Following the reports, the UK expelled the Libyan envoy, giving him 24 hours to leave the country.

    Follow our coverage of the Libya uprising

    "The Vienna Convention requires the Gaddafi regime to protect diplomatic missions in Tripoli. By failing to do so that regime has once again breached its international responsibilities and obligations," William Hague, the British foreign secretary, said in a statement, referring to Gaddafi.

    "I condemn the attacks on the British Embassy premises in Tripoli as well as the diplomatic missions of other countries," Hague said.

    Meanwhile, the United Nations announced it had evacuated its international staff from the capital due to the unrest.

    Stephanie Bunker, a spokeswoman for the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said on Sunday that 12 staffers had left Libya and were now in neighbouring Tunisia.

    Elsewhere, fighting continued on the western border near Tunisia, where a number of Gaddafi's troops tried to break through the border crossing into Tunisia.

    Al Jazeera's Anita McNaught, reporting from the Tunisia-Libya border, said she could hear Grad rockets whizzing past.

    "Rebel forces seem to know the territory very well here, and as long as they occupy the higher ground, they appear to have the upper hand."

    There were also reports of fierce fighting in the city of Misurata, as opposition fighters try to seize the city's airport from Gaddafi forces. Pro-democracy forces also reported fighting near the opposition-held city of Zintan, where they said NATO air strikes hit pro-Gaddafi troops.

    Distrust of Gaddafi

    The fighting came as Libyan state television showed what it called footage of the body of Gaddafi's son who was allegedly killed in the NATO air strike a day earlier.

    Rifle fire and car horns rang out in Benghazi as news of Saturday's attack spread. Cars whizzed by the sea front beeping their horns and shouting "God is greatest" as the night sky was lit up by red tracer fire.

    Thousands of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa are among those caught in the fighting in Libya [Al Jazeera]

    But opposition fighters there who control a vast swathe of the east of the country say they cannot trust Gaddafi.

    Al Jazeera's Sue Turton, reporting from Benghazi, said there were "an awful lot" of suggestions in Libya that the news of the deaths could be fabricated.

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

    "Back in 1986, Gaddafi once claimed that Ronald Reagan, then US president, had launched a strike on his compound in Tripoli and killed his daughter. Many journalists since then dug around and found out that the actual child that had died had nothing to do with Gaddafi, that he sort of adopted her posthumously."

    Saif al-Arab Gaddafi is the most unknown of the Libyan leader's children, Al Jazeera's McNaught said.

    "He's one of the low-profile of his children and has been largely invisible since the conflict began", she said.

    "He hasn't been visible in any significant form. He hasn't appeared on TV or made any speeches, he hasn't been on any crowd-rallying marches."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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