Tripoli: A NATO missile struck a house in Tripoli where Muammar Gaddafi and his wife were staying on Saturday, killing his youngest son and three grandchildren but missing the Libyan leader, a government spokesman said.
The strike would be a significant blow to the morale of the regime, which is struggling to maintain its hold on the western half of the country despite weeks of NATO-led airstrikes. It came just hours after Gaddafi called for a mutual cease-fire and negotiations with NATO powers to end a six-week bombing campaign.
Saif al-Arab Gaddafi was the brother of the better known Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, who was widely promoted as a reformer before the uprising began on February 15. The younger Gaddafi had spent much of his time in Germany in recent years.
Muammar Gaddafi and his wife were in the Tripoli house of his 29-year-old son when it was hit by at least one bomb dropped from a NATO warplane, according to Libyan spokesman Moussa Ibrahim.
"The leader himself is in good health," Ibrahim said. "He was not harmed. The wife is also in good health."
On Tuesday, British Defense Minister Liam Fox and US Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters at the Pentagon that NATO planes were not targeting Gaddafi specifically but would continue to attack his command centers. White House spokesman Shin Inouye declined to comment on the developments in Libya, referring questions to NATO.
Ibrahim said Saif al-Arab had studied at a German university but had not yet completed his studies.
"The attack resulted in the martyrdom of brother Saif al-Arab Gaddafi and three of the leader's grandchildren," Ibrahim said.
Saif al-Arab "was playing and talking with his father and mother and his nieces and nephews and other visitors when he was attacked for no crimes committed," Ibrahim said.
Journalists taken to the walled complex of one-story buildings in a residential Tripoli neighborhood saw heavy bomb damage. The blast had torn down the ceiling of one building and left a huge pile of rubble and twisted metal on the ground.
Ibrahim said the airstrike was an attempt to "assassinate the leader of this country," which he said violated international law.
Heavy bursts of gunfire were heard in Tripoli after the attack.
Gaddafi had seven sons and one daughter. The Libyan leader also had an adopted daughter who was killed in a 1986 US airstrike on his Bab al-Aziziya residential compound. That strike - which was separate from the area struck on Saturday - came in retaliation for the bombing attack on a German disco in which two US servicemen were killed. The US at the time blamed Libya for the disco blast.
Saif's mother is Safiya Farkash, Gaddafi's second wife and a former nurse.
Gaddafi railed again foreign intervention earlier on Saturday, saying Libyans have the right to choose their own political system but not under the threat of NATO bombings.
"The door to peace is open," Gaddafi said. "You are the aggressors. We will negotiate with you. Come, France, Italy, UK, America, come to negotiate with us. Why are you attacking us?"
In Brussels, a NATO official said before Saturday's fatal strike that the alliance needed "to see not words but actions," and vowed the alliance would keep up the pressure until the UN Security Council mandate on Libya is fulfilled. NATO has promised to continue operations until all attacks and threats against civilians have ceased, all of Gaddafi's forces have returned to bases and full humanitarian access is granted.
The NATO official, who spoke on condition of anonymity according to policy, noted that Gaddafi's forces had shelled Misrata and tried to mine the city's port just hours before his speech.
"The regime has announced cease-fires several times before and continued attacking cities and civilians," the official said.
"All this has to stop, and it has to stop now," the official said.
Rebel leaders have said they will only lay down their arms and begin talks after Gaddafi and his sons step aside. Gaddafi has repeatedly refused to resign.
A rebel spokesman, Jalal al-Galal, called the cease-fire offer a publicity stunt.
"We don't believe that there is a solution that includes him or any member of his family. So it is well past any discussions. The only solution is for him to depart," he said.