TRIPOLI, Libya – Angry mobs attacked Western embassies and U.N. offices in Tripoli Sunday after Moammar Gadhafi claimed a NATO strike hit a family compound, killing the leader’s second-youngest son and three grandchildren. Russia accused the Western alliance of exceeding its U.N. mandate of protecting Libyan civilians with the strike.
Two military officials said Sunday, speaking anonymously, that the structure hit Saturday night was actually a command and control center.
The vandalized embassies were empty and nobody was reported injured, but the attacks heightened tensions between the Libyan regime and Western powers, prompting the United Nations to pull its international staff out of the capital.
The bombing did not slow the attacks of Gadhafi’s forces on rebel strongholds in the western part of Libya that has remained largely under the control of the regime. The rebel port of Misrata, which has been besieged by Gadhafi’s troops for two months, came under heavy shelling Sunday and at least 12 people were killed, a medic said.
Gadhafi has repeatedly called for a cease-fire, most recently Saturday, but has not halted his assault on Misrata, a city of 300,000 where hundreds have been killed since the rebellion against Libya’s ruler erupted in mid-February.
The rebels, who control most of eastern Libya, have been unable to gain an advantage on the battlefield despite weeks of NATO airstrikes. Alliance officials and allied leaders emphatically denied they were hunting Gadhafi to break the stalemate between the better trained government forces and the lightly armed rebels.
Canadian Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard, who commands NATO’s operation in Libya, said that “we do not target individuals.” However, the leaders of the U.S., Britain and France have said Gadhafi must go, prompting warnings by U.N. Security Council members Russia, China and Brazil against NATO attempts to change the regime.
In some of its strongest language, the Russian Foreign Ministry on Sunday accused NATO of a “disproportionate use of force” and cast doubt on NATO’s assertion that it is not targeting Gadhafi or members of his family. The ministry called for “an immediate cease-fire and the beginning of a political settlement process without preconditions.”
NATO warplanes have shifted their focus in the past two weeks from support for rebels on the front lines to attacking the regime’s communications centers.
After news of the air strike spread in Tripoli, an angry mob burned down the British embassy buildings, including the ambassador’s residence, the British Foreign Office said. Britain has taken a leading role in supporting the rebels.
The Italian embassy in Tripoli was also burned, the Italian Foreign Ministry said, accusing the Gadhafi regime of failing to take measures to protect foreign missions. Italy withdrew its diplomats weeks ago and promised the attack on the embassy “will not weaken” its determination to continue with its partners in that mission.
A Libyan anti-Gadhafi activist who toured Tripoli said the U.S. Embassy was also damaged with scorch marks outside the building’s windows and a green Libyan flag draped over the roof on one side.