LIBYAN leader Muammar Gaddafi says he has his "back to the wall" but does not fear death, as NATO insists there will be no let-up in its air war despite Italian calls for a cessation.
"We will resist and the battle will continue to the beyond, until you're wiped out. But we will not be finished," Gaddafi said in an audio message broadcast on Libyan TV late yesterday.
"There's no longer any agreement after you killed our children and our grandchildren ... We have our backs to the wall. You (the West) can move back," the strongman said in homage to his comrade Khuwildi Hemidi, several members of whose family were killed Monday in reported NATO raids on his residence.
"We are not frightened. We are not trying to live or escape," Gaddafi said, denouncing what he called a crusade against a Muslim country in which civilians and children were targeted.
NATO has acknowledged that its fighter planes hit the city of Sorman, west of Tripoli, but insisted the target was military, a precision air strike against a "high-level" command and control node.
Libyan government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim said 15 people, including three children, were killed in the attack, which he lashed as a "cowardly terrorist act which cannot be justified".
Ibrahim said the attack was on an estate belonging to Hemidi, a veteran comrade of Gaddafi.
"By what right do you target politicians and their families?" Gaddafi asked in the message. He said Hemidi's office in Tripoli had been bombed four times.
"They were looking for him because he's a hero. When they didn't find him in his office they wanted to kill him in his home," Gaddafi added, calling on the UN to send observers to confirm the NATO target was a civilian site and not a military target.
Gaddafi promised to build a monument, "the highest in North Africa", to Hemidi's four-year-old grand-daughter Khaleda, who the authorities said was killed in the raid.
"We will stay, we will resist and we will not give in. Strike with your missiles, two, three, 10 or 100 years."
His message came hours after NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen vowed there would be no halt to the bombing campaign, saying more civilians would die if operations were not maintained under a UN mandate to protect Libyans from the exactions of Gaddafi's regime.
"NATO will continue this mission because if we stop, countless more civilians could lose their lives," Rasmussen said in a video statement on the NATO website.
The secretary-general did not directly refer to Italy, whose Foreign Minister Franco Frattini yesterday called for "an immediate humanitarian suspension of hostilities" in Libya.
"We have seen the effects of the crisis and therefore also of NATO action not only in eastern and southwestern regions but also in Tripoli," Frattini told a parliamentary committee in Rome.
"I believe an immediate humanitarian suspension of hostilities is required in order to create effective humanitarian corridors," while negotiations should also continue on a more formal ceasefire and peace talks, he said.
The commander of the NATO operation, Canada's Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard, echoed Rasmussen's comments.
"I appreciate the effort of the Italian government to bring a cessation to the violence taking place and, obviously, to be able to move humanitarian assistance," Bouchard told a briefing.
But he said a ceasefire risked becoming "just an opportunity for both sides to reload and to engage in further violence down the road".
"We must continue to stay engaged to prevent that rearming," Bouchard said.
Frattini's comments had drawn a swift rebuff from NATO ally France, which has played a leading role in the military intervention in Libya.
"The coalition and the countries that met as the Abu Dhabi contact group two weeks ago were unanimous on the strategy - we must intensify the pressure on Gaddafi," foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero told reporters.
"Any pause in operations would risk allowing him to play for time and to reorganise. In the end, it would be the civilian population that would suffer from the smallest sign of weakness on our behalf."
The rebels fighting to end Gaddafi's four-decade rule were also dismissive of the Italian ceasefire proposal.
"Even if NATO halts operations, we will fight tooth and nail, we will fight until our country is freed, we don't fear (a NATO cessation)," rebel spokesman Mahmud Shamam said.
"The Libyan people have tasted freedom and will not accept anything less ... they will fight to the end, until victory."
In its latest operational update issued today, NATO said its fighter aircraft struck, among other targets, a radar base and a command and control node in the vicinity of Tripoli, and two radar towers near the rebel-held city of Misrata.