- Associated Press - Sunday, May 1, 2011

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Vandals attacked the Italian and British embassies in the Libyan capital Sunday, hours after officials said Col. Moammar Gadhafi had escaped a NATO missile strike that killed one of his sons and three young grandchildren. The unrest prompted the United Nations to pull its international staff out of Tripoli.

Britain responded to the attack on its embassy complex, which left the buildings badly burned, by announcing that it was expelling the Libyan ambassador to London.

NATO’s attack on a blast-wall-ringed Gadhafi family compound in a residential area of Tripoli late Saturday signaled escalating pressure on the Libyan leader, who has tried to crush an armed rebellion that erupted in mid-February. Libyan officials denounced the strike as an assassination attempt and a violation of international law.

The Libyan government stepped up its shelling on the besieged western city of Misrata, pounding the port, which has been the rebel-held city’s only lifeline. Heavy shelling also occurred elsewhere in the city throughout the day, killing 12 people and raising the two-day death toll to 29.

Gadhafi forces lobbed more than two dozen Grad rockets and mortars against the port in the evening, killing two people who were manning an improvised checkpoint outside the port. The volley of rockets also hit some aid that was left on the port’s dock, causing a fire and filling the sky with smoke, said Ahmed al-Jamal, 27, who works at the port restaurant and was injured slightly.

“It was random fire, but most of it hit near the port gate,” said Abdel Hamid abou Zugeya, a medic with the Red Crescent who was there during the shelling.

Medics in Misrata said another 10 people were killed in other parts of the city and 29 were injured.

Misrata, which is the main rebel-held city in the west, has emerged as a key prize as the two sides have been locked in a stalemate, with Col. Gadhafi holding sway over the western half of the country and the rebels dominating the east.

NATO warplanes have been carrying out airstrikes in Libya for the past six weeks as part of a U.N. mandate to protect Libyan civilians.

The bombing that reportedly killed Col. Gadhafi’s second-youngest son, Seif al-Arab, drew criticism from Russia, which cast doubt on NATO’s assertion that the alliance is not targeting the Libyan leader or members of his family.

The 29-year-old Seif al-Arab Gadhafi survived a 1986 U.S. airstrike on his father’s Bab al-Aziziya residential compound that killed his adopted sister — retaliation for the bombing attack on a German disco in which two U.S. servicemen were killed. The United States at the time blamed Libya for the disco blast.

“Statements by participants in the coalition that the strikes on Libya are not aimed at the physical destruction of … Gadhafi and members of his family raise serious doubts,” a Russian Foreign Ministry statement said.

It also said the “disproportionate use of force … is leading to detrimental consequences and the death of innocent civilians.” The ministry called for “an immediate cease-fire and the beginning of a political settlement process without preconditions.”

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a Gadhafi ally, also condemned the strike.

NATO acknowledged that it had struck a “command and control building,” but it insisted all its targets are military in nature and linked to Col. Gadhafi’s systematic attacks on the population.

“It was not targeted against any individual,” NATO spokeswoman Carmen Romero said Sunday, adding the report of the deaths remained unconfirmed.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, without confirming fatalities, also told the British Broadcasting Corp. that the strike was in line with the U.N. mandate to prevent “a loss of civilian life by targeting Gadhafi’s war-making machine.”

A NATO warplane bombed the residential complex taking up an entire block in Tripoli’s Garghour neighborhood, which is also home to several foreign embassies. The blast killed Col. Gadhafi’s son while the Libyan leader and his wife, Safiya, also were inside, said Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim. Three of Col. Gadhafi’s grandchildren, all younger than 12, were killed, but the Libyan leader was “in good health,” he said. Mr. Ibrahim initially said Seif al-Arab Gadhafi was the youngest.

Bishop Giovanni Martinelli, the top Catholic clergyman in Tripoli, said he was shown several bodies in a hospital in the capital on Sunday. He said that he was told that one of the bodies was that of Seif al-Arab Gadhafi but that it was so badly disfigured that he could not make a positive identification.

“We saw the body. The body was completely disfigured,” the bishop told the Associated Press.

He said he was told that among the bodies were those of the three children.

Footage broadcast on Libyan TV showed Bishop Martinelli and other clergymen speaking blessings in what appeared to be a morgue. Two of the bodies were covered by green Libyan flags, and a flower wreath leaned against a wall.

Neighbors said the complex bombed late Saturday had served as the Gadhafi family home for years. It contained two residences, each with two bedrooms, as well as a den, a large communal space and a separate kitchen.

The kitchen clock, knocked from the wall, had stopped a 8:08 and 45 seconds, the time of the explosion. Cooking pots with leftover food, including stuffed peppers, noodles and a stew, were covered with aluminum foil. In one of the living rooms, a pile of video games, including FIFA 10, lay scattered on a sofa.

The bombing demolished the ceiling of the main single-story building and tore a hole into the ground, displaying what looked like a basement. What appeared to be an unexploded rocket lay on the ground, which was covered by twisted metal and pieces of concrete. Hours after the blast, onlookers were permitted onto the grounds, some chanting pro-Gadhafi slogans.

In Rome, the Italian Foreign Ministry said its embassy and several others in Tripoli were damaged by vandals and accused the Gadhafi regime of failing to take measures to protect foreign missions. The ministry issued a statement Sunday following reports from Tripoli that a fire had broken out at the Italian Embassy. Italy withdrew its diplomats weeks ago.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said the British Embassy buildings, which include the ambassador’s residence, have been almost completely burned down, with only the shells remaining. She said the buildings had been “ransacked, vandalized and completely destroyed,” but they were empty at the time as all staff already had left.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the Libyan ambassador has been given 24 hours to leave the country. “I condemn the attacks on the British Embassy premises in Tripoli as well as the diplomatic missions of other countries,” he said in a statement.

The United Nations pulled its 12 international staffers out of Tripoli and sent them to neighboring Tunisia because of unrest in the Libyan capital, said Stephanie Bunker, spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

U.N. international staffers remain in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, in eastern Libya.

Rebels celebrated the news of the airstrike that killed Col. Gadhafi’s son, although some questioned the veracity of the claim, saying the regime could be trying to discredit the international military campaign.

“We don’t know if it is true or not because Gadhafi is a liar. He is probably trying to put pressure on international community. I will only believe it if you put the body in front of me,” said Khaled al-Urfi, a 34-year-old metalworker.

In addition to his eight biological children, Col. Gadhafi also had an adopted daughter who was killed in the 1986 U.S. airstrike.

Seif al-Arab Gadhafi is the second youngest of Col. Gadhafi’s seven sons and brother of the better known Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, who was touted as a reformist before the uprising began. Seif al-Arab Gadhafi spent much of his time in Germany in recent years and was not involved in Libyan power structures, as were many of his siblings.

The airstrike that killed Seif al-Arab Gadfahi came just hours after Col. Gadhafi called for a mutual cease-fire and negotiations with NATO powers to end the bombing campaign. NATO rejected the offer, saying the alliance needed “to see not words but actions.”

On Sunday morning, Col. Gadhafi’s troops shelled Misrata’s port as a Maltese aid ship, the Mae Yemanja, unloaded food and medical supplies, said Ahmed al-Misrati, a truck driver helping move the cargo.

“We were still working this morning when they started firing rockets,” Mr. al-Misrati said. “Some fell in the ocean, some on the pavement, some in the warehouses and in the water in front of the boat.”

The boat quickly embarked back to sea, he said.

Also Sunday, several mortars hit Tunisian territory near the Libyan border crossing of Dhuheiba, the site of fierce fighting between pro-Gadhafi and rebel forces in recent days, eyewitnesses said. Fighting spilled into Tunisia on Friday as well.

An AP photographer witnessed a violent firefight Sunday morning as Gadhafi loyalists tried to wrench the crossing from rebel control. Most of the mortars that hit Tunisian territory landed in uninhabited areas, except for two that fell near a school

The mortars did not cause any casualties or significant damage, but they did scare the locals, said Mohamed Hedia, an area resident.

Edith M. Lederer reported from the United Nations. Associated Press writers Ben Hubbard in Misrata, Libya; Juergen Baetz in Berlin; Slobodan Lekic in Brussels; Lynn Berry in Moscow; and Bouazza ben Bouazza in Tunis, Tunisia, contributed to this report.

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