TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libyan state television carried brief audio remarks it said were by leader Muammar Gaddafi on Friday in which he taunted NATO as a cowardly crusader and said he was in a place they could not reach.
The comments came after Italy's foreign minister said Gaddafi had very likely left the Libyan capital and probably been wounded by NATO air strikes, an account Tripoli dismissed.
"I tell the cowardly crusader (NATO) that I live in a place they cannot reach and where you cannot kill me," said the voice, which sounded like Gaddafi's.
"Even if you kill the body you will not be able to kill the soul that lives in the hearts of millions," Gaddafi said, adding he received a "massive" number of calls following a NATO air strike on his Bab al-Aziziyah compound in Tripoli on Thursday.
There was no accompanying video. But Libyan government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim said Gaddafi was unharmed and in Tripoli, leading the country and in good spirits.
NATO allies including the United States, Britain and France are bombing Libya as part of a U.N. mandate to protect civilians. They say they will not stop until the downfall of the Libyan leader, who took power in a coup 41 years ago.
Gaddafi faces a three-month-old uprising by rebels who control Benghazi and the oil-producing east of the North African country. Tripoli says the rebels are criminals and supporters of al Qaeda and calls NATO strikes acts of colonial aggression.
The conflict has caused a diplomatic rupture between Tripoli and Western powers and their allies.
As a result of the attacks, Libya is considering withdrawing from a global campaign against Islamic militants, the state news agency JANA said on Friday.
The International Criminal Court prosecutor will request arrest warrants for Gaddafi and two others on Monday, Spanish radio station Cadena Ser reported, citing ICC sources.
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said he heard the report on Gaddafi from the bishop of Tripoli, Giovanni Innocenzo Martinelli.
"I tend to give credence to the comment of the bishop of Tripoli, Monsignor Martinelli, who has been in close contact over recent weeks, when he told us that Gaddafi is very probably outside Tripoli and is probably also wounded. We don't know where or how," Frattini told reporters in Italy.
Ibrahim said Italy's remarks were cover for a "horrendous" NATO strike that hit a guesthouse in the eastern city of Brega on Friday that killed 11 people and wounded 45, five of whom were in critical condition.
State television showed footage of at least nine bodies with multiple wounds, wrapped in blankets. A NATO official in Naples said they did not have any information on the report.
"Once again NATO proves to the world that it has lost all human values and it is an alliance of barbarians," said Ibrahim.
WHITE HOUSE MEETING
The rebels were to meet senior White House officials in Washington on Friday to seek cash and diplomatic legitimacy. Rebels have been pleading for funds they say will help them hold besieged positions on the ground.
They want Washington to help free up to $180 million in frozen Gaddafi assets to bankroll their campaign.
"To those who stand behind Gaddafi they must know his regime is ending. There is no place for Muammar Gaddafi in Libya's future," rebel council chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil told Al Arabiya on Friday. He pledged amnesty to any Gaddafi defectors.
The Libyan conflict is deadlocked and recent fighting has focussed on the city of Misrata, where rebels are clinging on in the face of a government siege and fierce battles.
Rebels took Misrata airport this week and a doctor in Misrata, who gave his name as Khalid, said on Friday missile strikes by Gaddafi's forces stationed in positions around the city killed 10 people and injured 20.
There was no independent confirmation. Ibrahim said the city was in Tripoli's hands and rebels were fleeing.
State television also said NATO warships hit a Red Crescent Society building when they shelled Misrata on Friday. It showed footage of medics and nurses wearing uniforms and Red Crescent insignia attending to wounded people with blood stains on their legs at a building it said was that of a Red Crescent Society.
A NATO official said the only incident he was aware of involving NATO warships in the area involved NATO ships exchanging fire with government forces ashore on Thursday after moving to intercept an attack on Misrata by small boats.
The war has taken a tough toll on civilians. Food, fuel and medical equipment are in short supply in the rebel-controlled Western Mountains region, where the main delivery route is under threat from Gaddafi forces.
Doctors have been forced to open makeshift medical theatres and say they are struggling to treat the wounded
It has also forced thousands to flee. Migrants trying to escape by sea have a one in 10 chance of dying in a Mediterranean crossing in appalling conditions on overcrowded, unseaworthy boats, the U.N. refugee agency said on Friday.
Around 12,000 migrants have arrived at reception centres in Malta and Italy, while an estimated 1,200 are missing, presumed dead.
(Reporting by Paolo Biondi in Italy, Souhail Karam in Rabat, Matt Robinson in Zintan, Joseph Nasr in Berlin, Sami Aboudi in Cairo, Alexandra Sage in Paris and David Brunnstrom in Brussels; Writing by Matthew Bigg; editing by Mark Heinrich)