Sunday, June 26, 2011

NATO Air Strike Blamed in 15 Civilian Deaths

NATO air strike blamed in 15 civilian deaths

Adam Schreck, Associated Press
Saturday, June 25, 2011
Tripoli, Libya

Libyan authorities on Saturday accused NATO of killing 15 people in an air strike that hit a restaurant and bakery in the east, though the alliance denied the report.

It was the latest outcry from Libyan leader Moammar Khadafy's government blaming NATO for killing civilians amid a four-month uprising that has sparked a civil war. NATO insists it does all it can to avoid such casualties.

Meanwhile, rebel representatives said their fighters were coordinating around the country for the "zero hour" when their forces would reach the capital of Tripoli. The rebels said they have been working to cut fuel supplies from the Tunisian border in an attempt to paralyze Khadafy's forces. Rebels also are making homemade bombs and trying to ferry other weapons to their comrades in Tripoli, a spokesman for an underground guerrilla group there said.

Libya's state news agency quoted a military official in Khadafy's forces as saying that NATO warplanes hit a number of civilian sites Saturday in the oil town of Brega, including a restaurant and a bakery. The official said 15 civilians were killed and 20 wounded in the strike. The JANA news agency claimed five civilians were killed Friday in Brega as well.

NATO said it did not carry out any strikes in the area Saturday. An official said alliance warplanes did hit several targets in the vicinity of Brega on Friday but that there was no evidence civilians had been killed or wounded.

"We have no indications of any civilian casualties in connection with these strikes," said the official, who spoke on condition on anonymity. "What we know is that the buildings we hit were occupied and used by pro-Khadafy forces to direct attacks against civilians around Ajdabiya."

Ajdabiya is a city between Brega and the rebel stronghold of Benghazi to the northeast.

NATO said it hit multiple military command sites Friday near Brega, which has been a frequent flashpoint between rebels and Khadafy's forces.

The alliance said government forces had moved into buildings in an abandoned area of Brega and started using them to launch strikes on civilians, putting rebel-held cities such as Ajdabiya and Benghazi at risk.

Reports of civilian casualties in NATO strikes have provoked intense anger among many Libyans in the west of the country under Khadafy's control.

NATO is investigating whether one of its strikes may have slammed into a civilian neighborhood in Tripoli on June 19, killing several civilians.

A day later, alliance warplanes struck a family compound belonging to a close Khadafy aide, killing what the Libyan government says was 19 people, including at least three children. NATO called the site a "command and control" center and said it regrets any civilian deaths that resulted from the strike.

Rebel spokesman Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga in Benghazi said Khadafy was to blame for civilian casualties in the fighting, because "he keeps his weapons in highly populated civilian areas."

The Libyan rebels began their uprising in February against Khadafy, who has been in power since 1969. The conflict has turned into a civil war, and Khadafy's forces are accused of orchestrating deadly attacks on civilians.

The rebels have taken over much of the eastern half of Libya. They also control pockets in the west, including the vital port city of Misrata, about 125 miles from the capital.

A coalition including France, Britain and the United States began striking Khadafy's forces under a U.N. resolution to protect civilians on March 19. NATO assumed control of the air campaign over Libya on March 31 and is joined by a number of Arab allies.

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