NATO forces flattened a building inside Muammar Gaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziyah compound early yesterday, in what a press official from his government said was an attempt on the Libyan leader’s life.
Firefighters were still working to extinguish flames in part of the ruined building a few hours after the attack, when foreign journalists were brought to the scene in Tripoli.
The press official, who asked not to be identified, said 45 people were hurt in the strike, 15 of them seriously, and some were still missing. That could not be independently confirmed.
Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam said the Libyan government would not be cowed by such attacks.
“The bombing which targeted Muammar Gaddafi’s office today… will only scare children. It’s impossible that it will make us afraid or give up or raise the white flag,” he was quoted as saying by the Jana state news agency.
“You, NATO, are waging a losing battle because you are backed by traitors and spies. History has proved that no state can rely on them to win.”
Libyan authorities have contacted Russia, China, Italy, Turkey and other countries to complain about the strike on Gaddafi’s compound, a government statement said.
The compound has been hit before, but NATO forces appear to have stepped up the pace of strikes in Tripoli in recent days. A target nearby, which the government called a car park but which appeared to cover a bunker, was hit two days ago.
The attack on the compound coincided with a fresh flurry of diplomacy by countries seeking a way out of the Libyan conflict.
Russia, which has been critical of the western air strikes as exceeding the U.N. mandate to protect civilians, urged Tripoli on Saturday to implement an immediate ceasefire.
The African Union was also holding separate talks yesterday with Libyan Foreign Minister Abdelati Obeidi and rebel representatives in Addis Ababa to discuss a peace plan.
The rebel representatives — former ambassadors to South Africa and Uganda — and Obeidi were also due to meet separately with representatives of the United Nations and the European Union.
“This will be the first time that they (rebels) are attending a meeting here. We will meet both sides one after the other,” Ramtane Lamamra, AU Commissioner for Peace and Security, told Reuters.
The rebels rebuffed an earlier AU peace plan because it did not entail Gaddafi’s departure, while the United States, Britain and France say there can be no political solution until the Libyan leader leaves power.
The African Union does not have a good track record in brokering peace deals, having failed recently to end conflicts or disputes in Somalia, Madagascar and Ivory Coast.
The talks brought no relief for people in the besieged western city of Misrata, where residents reported intense bombardment in the early hours of Monday which tailed off when NATO planes flew over.
The weekend saw some of the bloodiest fighting of the two-month siege in Misrata despite an announcement by Gaddafi’s forces on Friday that they were pulling back.
Medics said more than 20 people were killed on Sunday and 28 on Saturday. A rebel spokesman put the death toll even higher. Three corpses were charred beyond recognition and one child was killed, but many of the shells fell on waste ground.
Residents said Gaddafi’s forces had been pushed away from Tripoli Street, centre of the recent battles, to the outskirts of the city, from where they were shelling occasionally when NATO planes were not around.
“Bodies of Gaddafi’s troops are everywhere in the streets and in the buildings. We can’t tell how many. Some have been there for days,” said Mohammed Ibrahim, a resident whose cousin was killed at the weekend. He was speaking by phone.
A rebel spokesman, Sami, said the humanitarian situation was worsening rapidly.
“It is indescribable. The hospital is very small. It is full of wounded people, most of them are in critical condition,” he said by phone. “The quantity of food available in the city is also decreasing. The state of the city is deteriorating because it has been under siege for about two months.”
A government spokesman in Tripoli said the army was still carrying out its plan to withdraw from the city, but had fired back when retreating troops were attacked.
“As our army was withdrawing from Misrata it came under attack by the rebels. The army fought back but continued its withdrawal from the city,” Mussa Ibrahim told reporters.
The government says it will leave it to local tribes to resolve the situation in Misrata. Rebels say the announcement may be part of a ruse to mask troop movements or stir violence between rebels and locals in nearby towns.
Rebel leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil told a news conference in Kuwait the Gulf state had agreed to give 50 million Kuwaiti dinars to his rebel council to help pay workers in the eastern part of the country under its control.
“This amount will help us a lot in paying the salaries of employees who did not receive their little salaries for two months,” he said. “We are capable of only covering 40 percent of this amount. We are in need of urgent aid.”
The rebels have been seeking international recognition as well as material support from the west and the Arab world.
Hampered by their lack of firepower, equipment and training, they have been unable to advance from eastern Libya. Fighting with Gaddafi’s troops has swung back and forth along the coast road between the towns of Ajdabiyah and Brega.
Abdel Jalil also said the rebels had received weapons from “friends and allies”, but did not name them.