“We are regarding it as an attempt to assassinate the leader and unifying figure of this country and other political leaders of this country,” government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said in a news conference in front of the ruined buildings on Monday, describing it an act “worthy of the mafia, of gangs, but not of governments.”
“How is this act of terrorism protecting civilians in Libya? How is this act of terrorism helping establish peace in Libya?” he asked. “Targeting political leaders will only help make the situation worse.”
The Obama administration denied that the strike was specifically intended to kill Gaddafi himself. White House spokesman Jay Carney, asked about the attacks in central Tripoli, said it was not U.S. policy to bring regime change to Libya.
“The goal of the mission is clear: protect the civilian population, enforce the no-fly zone, enforce the arms embargo,” Carney told reporters in Washington. While it up to NATO to select targets for air strikes, he said, it is “certainly not the policy of the coalition, of this administration to decapitate, if you will, or to effect regime change in Libya by force.”
About 130 miles east of the capital, the rebel-held port city of Misurata came under heavy shelling Monday for the third day in a row from Gaddafi loyalist forces camped out on the southern and southwestern outskirts, said Mohamed Ali, a rebel spokesman. By 5 p.m. local time, he said, at least 12 people had been killed and more than 22 injured in the latest barrages, which began overnight.
Gaddafi’s forces have intensified their shelling and rocketing of Misurata in the three days since the government said it was lifting the siege. As a result, the death toll has been climbing at one of its highest rates since the battle for Misurata began two months ago.
In another development, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi announced that Italy will take part in air strikes on Libya to help strengthen the mission of protecting civilians. Italy had previously said it wouldn’t participate in the bombing, although it has provided other support.
Also on Monday, the first shipment of food aid from U.S. farms bound for Libya arrived in Alexandria, Egypt, U.S. officials said. The aid will be stored inside and outside Libya by the World Food Program, for use if the situation deteriorates, officials said.
“There’s concern the [food] supply chain will start breaking down” if Libyan troops continue their offensive against rebel-held towns, Mark Bartolini, director of the U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, told reporters.