Nine civilians killed in Libya in Nato air strike


TRIPOLI – Libyan officials said yesterday a Nato strike had hit a civilian house in the capital Tripoli, killing nine residents, and last night Nato admitted it had carried out the air strike.

“Although we are still determining the specifics of this event, indications are that a weapons system failure may have caused this incident,” said Lieut-Gen Charles Bouchard, commander of Operation Unified Protector, in a statement.

Nato said a military missile site was the intended target of the air strikes and acknowledged the civilian casualties.

On another front in the four-month-old battle to force out Libyan leader Col Muammar Gadafy, a doctor in the city of Misrata said eight rebel fighters had been killed and 36 wounded in fighting with government troops.

In the early hours of yesterday, reporters were taken by Libyan government officials to a residential area in Tripoli’s Souq al-Juma district where they saw a body being pulled out of the rubble of a destroyed building. Later, in a hospital, they were shown the bodies of two children and three adults who, officials said, were among those killed in the Nato air strike.

Libyan foreign minister Abdelati Obeidi said the Nato strike was a “pathetic attempt . . . to break the spirit of the people of Tripoli and allow small numbers of terrorists to cause instability and disorder in the peaceful city”. Libyan officials earlier put the death toll at seven but Mr Obeidi said there were nine dead and 18 wounded.

“We will never forgive, we will never forget. We are here; on our land, united with our leader, ready for peace and ready for the fight for our freedom and honour,” Mr Obeidi told a news conference.

There was no way for reporters to verify all the bodies they were shown came from the building.

This is the first acknowledged incident of its kind in the campaign and it could weaken the fragile resolve of some countries in the alliance.

Nato has been pounding targets in Libya for months in what it says is an operation to protect civilians who rebelled against Col Gadafy’s 41-year rule. The Libyan leader says it is an act of colonial aggression designed to steal oil.

Strains are appearing within Nato member states as the campaign drags on for longer than most of its backers anticipated and Gadafy remains in power.

US defence secretary Robert Gates said he believed Nato should be allowed to stick to its task. “I think this is going to end okay. I think Gadafy will eventually fall, he told CNN.

Meanwhile, rebels from the city of Misrata, about 200km (130 miles) east of Tripoli, have been trying to push west towards the capital but yesterday they took heavy casualties when they came under fire from pro-Gadafy forces. A doctor at a field hospital near the frontline in Dafniyah, just west of Misrata, said eight fighters had been killed and 36 wounded.

A Reuters reporter at the field hospital said he saw a procession of pick-up trucks arriving from the front carrying the wounded and the dead, some of them covered with blankets.

“Gadafy’s forces were underground [in trenches]. We were patrolling and they ambushed us,” said rebel fighter Mohammed Swelhi, whose friend, Mustafa, was one of two bodies brought from the front in the back of a truck.

Last week, Nato aircraft dropped leaflets around the frontline warning pro-Gadafy fighters they would be targeted if they did not lay down their arms. But rebels say there has been little sign of the alliance. – (Reuters)