The Libyan government Friday denied reports that Muammar Qaddafi's youngest son, brigade commander Khamis Qaddafi, was killed in a NATO air strike.
"It's false news. They invented the news about Mr. Khamis Qaddafi in Zlitan to cover up their killing," Moussa Ibrahim, a government spokesman, told Reuters in Tripoli.
"This is a dirty trick to cover up their crime in Zlitan and the killing of the al-Marabit family," Ibrahim added.
Earlier Friday, a rebel spokesman said a NATO airstrike killed 32, including Qaddafi's son Khamis, a key commander among his strongman father's military forces.
Rebels said the airstrike took place at Zlitan, a frontline town where some of Qaddafi's most loyal and best equipped troops are making a stand to defend the outskirts of Tripoli, 160 kilometers away.
A NATO official at operations headquarters in Naples said he was aware of the report but could not confirm it.
"We cannot confirm anything right now, because we don't have people on the ground, but we are trying to find out what we can," he said.
If true, Khamis Qaddafi's death would be a severe blow to the leader's bid to resist a six-month-old NATO-backed uprising and remain in power.
The Qaddafi government said earlier this year that a NATO air strike had killed another of Gaddafi's sons, Saif al-Arab, who had a much lower public profile and no major leadership role.
Rebels who cleared Qaddafi's forces from Libya's third largest city of Misrata have been trying for weeks to push westwards and take Zlitan, which would open the coastal road toward his Tripoli stronghold.