Libyans Mourn Gaddafi Son, Army Pounds Misrata

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Reuters

Libyans Mourn Gaddafi Son, Army Pounds Misrata

by
Lin Noueihed

A Libyan rebel lies on the ground after being wounded by a mortar shell which killed two rebels in Al-Ghiran near Misrata airport. (AFP/Christophe Simon)

TRIPOLI - Crowds chanting Muammar Gaddafi's name gathered in Tripoli Monday for the funeral of his son and three grandchildren, killed in a NATO airstrike that has raised new questions about the role of Western powers in the uprising against the Libyan leader.

Gaddafi's forces kept up their attacks on his opponents, bombarding the port area of rebel-held Misrata with rockets and shellfire for a third day and disrupting operations to bring supplies in by sea to the besieged city.

Rebels in Misrata complained that NATO had not come to their aid, but alliance planes struck overnight on positions held by Libyan government forces near the rebel-held town of Zintan.

The developments highlighted the reliance of the faltering rebel movement on military backing from the West. But Saturday's NATO air raid on a Gaddafi compound, which the government says killed his 29-year-old son Saif al-Arab and three young grandchildren, added a new twist.

The deaths triggered attacks by angry crowds on the British and French embassies and the U.S. diplomatic mission in Tripoli, and accusations from the Libyan officials that NATO had been trying to assassinate Gaddafi.

About 2,000 people carrying flags and pictures of Gaddafi turned out for the funerals. They pumped their fists in the air and chanted pro-Gaddafi slogans.

"We are all with Gaddafi's Libya," read one placard.

Saif al-Arab's coffin, covered in flowers and wrapped in the green flag that has represented Libya since Gaddafi took power in a 1969 coup, was carried through the crowds to the grave at Hani cemetery in the Libyan capital.

Gaddafi did not appear to be at the funeral but Saif al-Islam, the most prominent of his sons, attended in dark tribal robes.

Saif al-Arab had no children but three of his young nieces and nephews were also killed in Saturday's blast. They were the children of his siblings Hannibal, Aisha and Mohammed Gaddafi.

RAID CRITICISED

Despite denials from Western leaders that the air raid was an assassination attempt on Gaddafi, it has provoked renewed debate on whether the British and French-led strikes are exceeding a United Nations mandate to protect civilians.

The South African government, which has led an African peace initiative, condemned the attack and said the U.N. resolution which authorized air strikes did not cover the assassination of individuals.

"The attacks on leaders and officials can only result in the escalation of tensions and conflicts on all sides and make future reconciliation difficult," it said in a statement.

Britain's Independent newspaper said it was a strategic error and gave the impression that the conflict was a confrontation between Gaddafi and the West.

"They leave the Libyan opposition looking helpless on the sidelines. That turns an internal revolt against a vicious dictator into another Western military adventure."

The Times, however, said NATO must step up its attacks on command and control centers despite the risks. "This is a war that cannot be allowed to drag on," it said in an editorial.

News that al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had been killed by U.S. special forces in a raid in Pakistan Monday may also give the Gaddafi camp pause for thought.

Libyan officials had no comment on the bin Laden killing but a rebel spokesman said Gaddafi should face the same fate.

"We are very happy and we are waiting for the next step. We want the Americans to do the same to Gaddafi," Colonel Ahmed Bani said in Benghazi.

MISRATA UNDER FIRE

Misrata, which has become a bloody symbol of resistance to the leader, was subjected to renewed bombardments Monday.

"The port is under heavy shelling today too, they have fired around 100 rockets so far. The shelling on Misrata has not stopped in the past 36 hours," a spokesman, who identified himself as Hassan al-Misrati, told Reuters by telephone.

"It seems that NATO have forgotten about us and this has emboldened the Gaddafi forces."

Rocket barrages hit the port area Sunday as an aid ship was trying to unload. Libyan state television said it was shelled to stop NATO from delivering weapons to the insurgents.

"Shelling the port is disastrous for us because it will sabotage all the humanitarian aid we are getting," rebel spokesman Ahmed Hassan said. "God help us if this happens."

An aid ship was still waiting off the coast of Misrata for bombing to stop and mines to be cleared before it tried to deliver supplies and evacuate some 1,000 foreigners and wounded Libyans, the International Organization for Migration said.

"We will wait until Tuesday noon," IOM spokesman Jean-Philippe Chauzy told Reuters in Geneva. "We are still hoping that things will improve."

At least one mine was still visible between the ship and the port, he said.

Rights groups say hundreds of people, including many civilians, have been killed in Misrata, about 200 km (130 miles) east of Tripoli. Officials in Tripoli deny targeting civilians, and say they are fighting armed gangs and al Qaeda sympathizers.

The frontline in eastern Libya has been static west of the town of Ajdabiyah for a week with government troops digging in and rebels attempting to train and regroup.

In the west, Libyan government forces are fighting to dislodge rebels from the Western Mountains after they seized control last month of the Dehiba-Wazin crossing, opening a passage for food, fuel and medicine.

Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim called the attacks on the embassies in Tripoli following the air strike "a regrettable action" but said police were outnumbered by the demonstrators.

Britain expelled the Libyan ambassador and Italy condemned the attack on its embassy as a grave and vile act. The United Nations withdrew its international staff from Tripoli after a crowd entered their compound.

(Additional reporting by Tarek Amara and Abdelaziz Boumzar in Dehiba, Deepa Babington and Michael Georgy in Benghazi, Matthew Tostevin in Tunis, Hamid Ould Ahmed in Algiers; Mariam Karouny in Beirut, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Angus MacSwan; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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