Libyans shouting for revenge have buried Muammar Qaddafi’s second-youngest son to the thundering sound of anti-aircraft fire, as South Africa warned that the NATO bombing that killed him would only bring more violence.
Libya’s leader did not attend Monday’s tumultuous funeral of 29-year-old Seif al-Arab, but elder brothers Seif al-Islam and Mohammed paid their respects, thronged by a crowd of several thousand. Jostling to get closer to the coffin, draped with a green Libyan flag, mourners flashed victory signs and chanted “Revenge, revenge for you, Libya.”
Three of Qaddafi’s grandchildren, an infant and two toddlers, also died in Saturday’s attack, which NATO says targeted one of the regime’s command and control centers. Qaddafi and his wife were in the compound at the time, but escaped unharmed, Libyan officials said, accusing the alliance of trying to assassinate the Libyan leader.
NATO officials have denied they are hunting Qaddafi to break the battlefield stalemate between Qaddafi’s troops and rebels trying for the past 10 weeks to depose him. Rebels largely control eastern Libya, while Qaddafi has clung to much of the west, including the capital, Tripoli.
Fierce battles have raged in Misrata, a besieged rebel-held city in western Libya, which has been shelled by Libyan forces every day in recent weeks. Records at one hospital showed that at least eight people were killed and 54 injured in shelling on Monday that lasted all morning and for a brief period during the afternoon.
Rebels have repeatedly called on NATO to use more firepower against Libyan troops.
Under a UN mandate, NATO’S role is to protect Libyan civilians, but the international community has increasingly disagreed about what that entails. Western political leaders have called for Qaddafi’s ouster, prompting warnings from Russia, China and others that regime change must not be the objective of NATO’S bombing campaign, now in its second month.
Responding to the attack on the Qaddafi compound, South Africa said on Monday that “attacks on leaders and officials can only result in the escalation of tensions and conflicts on all sides and make future reconciliation difficult.”
On Sunday, Russia accused NATO of a “disproportionate use of force” and called for an immediate ceasefire.
South Africa has attempted to mediate between Qaddafi and the rebels, proposing a ceasefire and dialogue. Rebel leaders have said they will only lay down their arms once Qaddafi and his family leave, but Qaddafi has refused.
Since the outbreak of fighting in the middle of February, members of the Qaddafi family have made only infrequent public appearances.
In Monday’s funeral, Qaddafi’s two sons Seif al-Islam and Mohammed were surrounded by a crowd of mourners who carried the coffin to a neglected, dusty cemetery where weeds and thistles grew amid stone slabs marking graves. From several positions near the cemetery, sustained anti-aircraft fire erupted for several minutes.
Seif al-Islam, viewed until recently by the West as a proponent of reform, stood at the freshly dug grave as the body of his brother was removed from the simple coffin, wrapped in a white burial shroud, and lowered into the ground. Seif al-Islam was dressed in traditional Libyan garb, with a black cap and a black vest over a long white shirt.
About 100m away, small graves had been dug for the Qaddafi grandchildren killed in the bombing.
The bombing has not deterred Qaddafi from keeping up his attacks on Misrata, Libya’s third--largest city with 300,000 people. On Monday, regime forces deployed on the outskirts of the city shelled Misrata, including its port, for several hours, and doctors said 12 people were wounded.
Hundreds have been killed in Misrata during two months of siege by Libyan troops.
In recent days, Qaddafi’s forces have tried to close access to the port, the city’s only lifeline. Last week, NATO vessels spotted Qaddafi’s forces as they tried to lay sea mines along the approaches to Misrata harbor.
Two of the sea mines had been moored to the seabed and were destroyed, but a third mine broke free and drifted off before the mine sweepers arrived. The alliance said its minesweeping ships were clearing approaches to Misrata on Monday to make sure there were no naval mines left in the waters.