Killing of rebel leader a 'slap to the face' of Britain, says Gaddafi regime

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The Gaddafi regime hailed the assassination of a Libyan rebel leader as a "a nice slap to the face of the British", coming just days after the UK formally recognised the opposition.

General Abdel Fattah Younes, a former government minister in Tripoli who joined the uprising in February, was shot dead on Thursday. As confusion about his death deepened yesterday, it was claimed his killers were members of the Obaida Ibn Jarrah Brigade, an Islamist militia linked to the campaign to topple Muammar Gaddafi.

Ali Tarhouni, a rebel minister, said General Younes had been killed by fighters who recalled him from the front line, shot him and burnt his body. In an attempt to exploit divisions among the rebels, Gaddafi's government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim told reporters: "It is a nice slap to the face of the British that the council that they recognised could not protect its own commander of the army. By this act, al-Qa'ida wanted to mark out its presence and its influence in this region.

"The other members of the National Transitional Council knew about it but could not react because they are terrified of al-Qa'ida."

Sir Christopher Meyer, a former British ambassador to Washington, said Younes's killing "underlines [the] folly of Nato getting drawn into Libyan civil war.... We should have created a safe haven in Benghazi, left it at that."

William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, announced on Wednesday that Britain was officially recognising the NTC. All remaining regime diplomats were ordered to leave Britain by yesterday.

Amid growing signs of infighting among the rebels and the NTC in disarray, Nato stepped up its bombing campaign yesterday, attacking three Libyan state TV satellite transmitters.

The military alliance said Gaddafi was using television broadcasts to "intimidate the Libyan people and incite acts of violence against them". However state TV remained on the air.

Rebel commanders yesterday claimed to have encircled Gaddafi's last stronghold in Libya's Western Mountain region. In a further development, the United Nations said it would consider requests from both Tripoli and Benghazi to unfreeze funds to pay for medicine and other urgent humanitarian needs.