Nato has denied targeting the family of Muammar Gaddafi following the strikes on a Tripoli residential compound that reportedly killed the Libyan leader's son and three of his grandchildren.
“All Nato's targets are military in nature and have been clearly linked to the Gaddafi regime's systematic attacks on the Libyan population and populated areas. We do not target individuals,” said Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard, the Canadian officer commanding the military operations in Libya from Naples.
But the deaths of Gaddafi's three grandchildren, if confirmed, will reinforce the doubts of alliance members uncomfortable with Nato's six-week bombing campaign and generate ferocious criticism from countries such as Russia that Nato is pushing well beyond its UN security council mandate.
A Russian lawmaker who often expresses the Kremlin's views on foreign affairs has condemned the NATO air strike on Tripoli that Libyan officials said killed a son and three grandchildren of Moammar Gadhafi.
“More and more facts indicate that the aim of the anti-Libyan coalition is the physical destruction of Gaddafi,” Konstantin Kosachyov said.
The Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez, went further in his criticism: "There is no doubt the order was given to kill Gaddafi. It doesn't matter who else is killed… this is a murder," he said in Caracas.
In Brussels, NATO spokeswoman Carmen Romero said the report of deaths remains unconfirmed. “We targeted a military command and control building with a precision strike,” she said.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said Sunday NATO's targeting policy was ‘in line’ with the UN resolution authorising the campaign.
But Cameron told the BBC: “The targeting policy of NATO and the alliance is absolutely clear. It is in line with UN resolution 1973 and it is about preventing a loss of civilian life by targeting Kadhafi's war-making machine.
Nato maintained that the villa complex, where Gaddafi and his wife were said to be present, was “a known command and control building” from where the regime has been co-ordinating its military onslaught on the rebels.
There is ample dissent among Nato governments over the nature of the campaign against Gaddafi, with only around a quarter of the alliance's 28 states taking part directly in the air strikes, although others are engaged in policing an arms embargo and enforcing a no-fly zone. For the first month the attacks on ground targets were dominated by the US, France, and Britain, with Norway, Denmark, Canada, and Belgium taking part as the operations came under Nato command.