Libyan state television carried brief audio tape remarks it said were by Muammar Gaddafi in which he taunted NATO as a cowardly crusader whose bombs could not kill him.
The comments were aired on Friday after Italy’s foreign minister said Gaddafi had probably left the Libyan capital and been wounded by NATO air strikes. Libyan officials dismissed the Italian minister’s remarks.
“I tell the cowardly crusader (NATO) that I live in a place they cannot reach and where you cannot kill me,” said the man on the audio tape, whose voice sounded like Gaddafi’s, Reuters reports.
“Even if you kill the body you will not be able to kill the soul that lives in the hearts of millions,” he said.
NATO struck Gaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziyah compound in Tripoli on Thursday but government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim said he was unharmed, in good spirits and in Tripoli.
NATO allies including the United States, Britain and France are bombing Libya as part of a U.N. mandate to protect civilians. They say they will not stop until the downfall of the Libyan leader, who took power in a coup 41 years ago.
A NATO air strike on the eastern Libyan city of Brega on Friday that the Libyan government said killed 11 people and wounded 45, was directed against a “command and control bunker”, the alliance said in a statement in Brussels.
Libyan state television showed funerals for those killed in Brega being held in the capital on Saturday.
“We are aware of allegations of civilian casualties in connection to this strike and although we cannot independently confirm the validity of the claim, we regret any loss of life by innocent civilians when they occur,” said NATO.
It said the building struck had been clearly identified as a command-and-control centre.
Explosions rocked the capital of the North African country overnight, a Reuters witness said.
Rebels have mounted a three-month-old uprising against Gaddafi’s rule and control Benghazi and the oil-producing east of Libya. Thousands of people have been killed in the fighting.
Rebel leaders met senior officials at the White House on Friday in a boost to their bid for international legitimacy.
PORT CITY BATTLES
The war has reached a virtual stalemate and fighting of late has focused on the port city of Misrata in the west. Rebels seized Misrata airport this week in a significant breakthrough.
Rebels took more territory on the edge of Misrata, said a witness called Ghassan reached by telephone on Saturday.
“The revolutionaries (rebels) are in full control of al Dafiniya, the western entrance to Misrata,” said Ghassan.
“On the eastern edge, the rebels are in control of Tammina, an area situated some 25 km east of Misrata and they are trying to advance further east,” he said, citing rebels.
Rebels also seized some parts of Zawiyah, a town 54 km (34 miles) west of Tripoli, the opposition newspaper Brnieq reported on its website on Saturday.
Rebels in the city centre pushed government forces to the outskirts and now control several main streets, it said, quoting a rebel spokesman in Zawiyah. The government recaptured Zawiyah on March 14 and has been in control since.
There was no independent confirmation for either report.
Tripoli says the rebels are criminals and supporters of al Qaeda, and calls NATO strikes acts of colonial aggression.
Libya was considering withdrawing from a global campaign against Islamic militants, state news agency JANA said on Friday in what appeared to be a veiled threat to Western powers.