Sunday, June 19, 2011

Libya says civilians killed in NATO airstrike on residential area in capital

TRIPOLI, Libya — The Libyan government accused NATO of bombing a residential neighborhood in the capital and killing civilians early Sunday, adding to its charges that the alliance is striking nonmilitary targets. At least four people, including two children, were reported killed.
It was not possible to independently verify the government’s account of what happened and NATO said it was investigating. The alliance has repeatedly insisted it tries to avoid killing civilians.
( Ivan Sekretarev / Associated Press ) - In this photo taken on a government-organized tour, Libyan man sits on debris from a damaged residential building in Tripoli’s outskirts, Libya, on Sunday, June 19, 2011. The Libyan government says civilians have been killed in a NATO airstrike that has struck the residential neighborhood in Tripoli.
Whether they are eventually confirmed or not, the allegations are likely to provide supporters of Moammar Gadhafi’s regime a fresh rallying point against the international intervention in Libya’s civil war.
Shortly after the airstrikes before dawn Sunday, journalists based in the Libyan capital were rushed by government officials to the destroyed building, which appeared to have been partially under construction. Reporters were escorted back to the site during the day, where children’s toys, teacups and dust-covered mattresses could be seen amid the rubble.
Government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim wasn’t immediately able to provide the number of casualties, but said there were no military facilities anywhere near the damaged building.
Journalists were shown at least four people said to have been killed in the strike, including the two young children. Foreign reporters in Tripoli are not allowed to travel and report freely and are almost always shadowed by government minders.
Salem Ali Garadi, 51, who said his brother and sister were among the victims, said five people were killed.
“There was intentional and deliberate targeting of the civilian houses,” deputy foreign minister Khaled Kaim told reporters at the site. “This is another sign of the brutality of the West.”
Libya’s Health Ministry says 856 civilians have been killed in NATO airstrikes since they began in March. The figure could not be independently confirmed. Previous government tolls from individual strikes have proven to be exaggerated.
NATO acknowledged its planes hit targets in Tripoli and said it was investigating whether it was responsible for the alleged strike on the house.
“NATO confirms that it was operating in Tripoli last night, conducting airstrikes against a legitimate military target,” Wing commander Mike Bracken said in a statement Sunday afternoon. He said the alliance was looking into the reports.
“NATO deeply regrets any civilian loss of life during this operation and would be very sorry if the review of this incident concluded it to be a NATO weapon,” Bracken said.
A NATO mission spokesman in Naples, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with alliance regulations, said earlier that the Gadhafi regime has made false claims in the past about NATO having caused civilian deaths.

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