By Adrian Croft
LONDON (Reuters) - NATO risks sliding into a ground war in Libya and is trying to kill its leader, Muammar Gaddafi, Russia's ambassador to the alliance said on Wednesday.
Dmitry Rogozin also said the conflict could have dire consequences for Europe by stoking hatred of the West.
"It is our observation that NATO is sliding down and being dragged more and more into the eventuality of a land-based operation in Libya," he told a news conference during a visit to London.
Asked if he believed NATO was trying to assassinate Gaddafi, Rogozin said: "Well yes. Your chief of defense has declared Gaddafi's assassination as an eventual target."
He was apparently referring to a suggestion in March by British Defense Secretary Liam Fox, later contradicted by other officials, that killing Gaddafi was a possible option.
Rogozin, speaking through an interpreter, said NATO was choosing targets and then declaring them to be legitimate.
"If Gaddafi or some people close to him sent a fax from some building in Libya, than immediately that building is declared as a military target," he said.
NATO, armed with a U.N. resolution authorizing a no-fly zone over Libya, has been striking Libyan targets for nearly three months with the aim of protecting civilians from attack by Gaddafi's forces.
Russia, which abstained in the March U.N. Security Council vote authorizing military intervention, has accused the Western coalition of going beyond its mandate.
The U.N. resolution bars an occupation force in Libya and Britain has ruled out a ground invasion.
However, some politicians see France and Britain's deployment of attack helicopters as an escalation of their involvement.
The military intervention in Libya was very dangerous, Rogozin said, asking if Britain had not had enough war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"What is happening in Tripoli is a real civil war and it is complicated by the inter-tribe contradictions and to intervene in this situation will mean to confuse this conflict and to exacerbate the situation even more," he said.
"It will lead up to the internationalization of this conflict with all the consequences for Europe in terms of extremism in Europe and hatred for the West ... Do you really want that?" he asked.
Russia is attempting to mediate in the fighting. Moscow's Africa envoy Mikhail Margelov met Libyan rebel leaders in Benghazi and a cousin of Gaddafi in Cairo last week and plans to travel to Tripoli soon to meet members of Gaddafi's government.
(Editing by Alison Williams)