Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi survived a NATO air strike that killed his youngest son and three grandchildren under the age of 12 in his bastion of Tripoli, hours after the alliance rejected the embattled leader's offer for "a ceasefire and negotiations."
Gaddafi and his wife were in the Tripoli house of his 29-year-old son, Saif al-Arab, when it was hit by at least one missile fired by a NATO warplane late last night, Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said on Sunday.
The house of Saif al-Arab, one of Gaddafi's seven sons, was attacked on Saturday night with "full power," he said.
68-year-old Gaddafi and his wife were there in the house with other friends and relatives, Ibrahim said. "The leader himself is in good health, he wasn't harmed."
The spokesman said Gaddafi's wife was also unharmed but other people in the house were injured.
"This was a direct operation to assassinate the leader of this country. This is not permitted by international law. It is not permitted by any moral code or principle. What we have now is the law of the jungle," Ibrahim told media persons.
"We think now it is clear to everyone that what is happening in Libya has nothing to do with the protection of civilians."
Ibrahim claimed that the attack resulted in "the martyrdom of brother Saif al-Arab Muammar Gaddafi, 29 years old, and three of the leader's grandchildren."
He did not give the names of children but said they were nieces and nephews of Saif al-Arab and were younger than 12. He said their names are not being released to protect the privacy of the family.
On the attack, the spokesman said "it seems there was intelligence that was leaked. They knew about something. They expected him (Gaddafi) for some reason. But the target was very clear, very, very clear. And the neighbourhood, yes of course, because the leader family has a place there, you could expect of course it would be guarded, but it is a normal neighbourhood. Normal Libyans live there."
Acknowledging that it had carried out the air strike, the NATO, however, did not deny or confirm the reported deaths.
A NATO spokesman said the strike had hit a "known command and control building in the Bab al-Azizya neighbourhood".
"All NATO's targets are military in nature and have been clearly linked to the... regime's systematic attacks on the Libyan population and populated areas. We do not target individuals," Lt Gen Charles Bouchard, commander of NATO's Operation Unified Protector, said.
Bouchard said he was aware of reports that some of Gaddafi's family members had been killed in the strike.
"We regret all loss of life, especially the innocent civilians being harmed as a result of the ongoing conflict," he said.
Saif al-Arab is the most unknown of the Libyan leader's children, Al Jazeera said. "He has been largely invisible since the conflict began" in February, it said.
"He hasn't been visible in any significant form. He hasn't appeared on TV or made any speeches, he hasn't been on any crowd-rallying marches."
Ibrahim said Saif al-Arab had been studying in Germany. Libyan officials said Saif al-Arab's house had been hit by at least three missiles.
In a video broadcast by the satellite channel, Libyan officials showed reporters what they said was the destroyed house, a large crater, crumbled concrete and twisted metal.
In their reaction, rebels in Benghazi said they cannot trust Gaddafi.
Al-Jazeera said there were "an awful lot" of suggestions in Libya's rebel-held eastern region that the news of the deaths could be fabricated.
One of the main spokesmen for the opposition Transitional National Council, Abdul Hafez Goga, said he thinks "it could all be fabrication, that it may well be Gaddafi is trying to garner some sympathy."
Three loud explosions were heard in Tripoli last evening as jets flew overhead. Volleys of anti-aircraft fire rang out following the first two strikes, which were followed by a third.
Earlier on Saturday, NATO officials had rejected an offer by Gaddafi to call a ceasefire and negotiate as false.
The proposal was delivered in an often defiant speech by Gaddafi broadcast over Libyan state television, in which he asserted he would never leave Libya.
"Come France, Italy, UK, America, come, we'll negotiate with you," Gaddafi said. "You lie and say I'm killing my own people. Show us the bodies."