BENGHAZI, Libya – Moammar Gadhafi's son denies the government launched airstrikes against Libyan cities and claims reports of the number of protesters killed have been exaggerated.
Thursday's comments by Seif al-Islam Gadhafi come as the Libyan government fights to maintain control after several other major Libyan cities and towns in the east and close to the capital have fallen to the rebellion against the longtime leader.
Seif al-Islam Gadhafi insists the death toll from Libyan security forces has been limited.
Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said estimates of some 1,000 people killed in the violence in Libya were "credible," although he stressed the information was incomplete. The New York-based Human Rights Watch has put the death toll at nearly 300.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) — A Libyan army unit loyal to Moammar Gadhafi blasted a minaret of a mosque with anti-aircraft missiles and automatic weapons Thursday after scores of anti-government protesters refused to leave the area west of Tripoli, a witness said.
Protesters who had been camped inside and outside the mosque suffered heavy casualties in the attack on Zawiya, 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of Tripoli, the witness said, but he couldn't provide an exact toll.
Pro-Gadhafi forces have fought back fiercely as the longtime leader has seen his control whittled away, with Zawiya and other major Libyan cities and towns closer to the capital falling to the rebellion against his rule. In the east, now all but broken away, the opposition vowed to "liberate" Tripoli, where the Libyan leader is holed up with a force of militiamen roaming the streets and tanks guarding the outskirts.