NATO mistakenly hits Libyan rebels
Alliance says Khadafy using human shields
TRIPOLI, Libya — NATO said yesterday that it mistakenly struck a column of Libyan rebel vehicles in an airstrike near an eastern oil town two days earlier and expressed regret for any casualties that might have resulted.
The alliance has accidentally hit rebel forces before in its air campaign to protect civilians in the civil war between Moammar Khadafy’s military and the fighters trying to end his more than four decades in power.
The rebels have also complained that NATO’s strikes have not helped them gain decisive momentum against the Libyan leader’s better trained and equipped military, which still has firm control over most of western Libya. The rebels control much of the east.
The alliance statement gave no figures on casualties from Thursday’s airstrike near Brega. There was no immediate comment from the rebel leadership.
International military forces have had some trouble in hitting government troops because of their proximity to civilians.
NATO accused Libyan leader Khadafy yesterday of using mosques and children’s parks as shields for his military operations, saying the longtime ruler who lashed out against alliance airstrikes is the one “brutally attacking the Libyan people.’’
Hours later, at least two explosions shook Tripoli as NATO jets soared above the capital. It was not immediately clear what had been hit or whether there were casualties in the late afternoon raid.
In a telephone call piped through loudspeakers to a few thousand people demonstrating in Tripoli’s Green Square on Friday, Khadafy railed against NATO after a day of intensified bombing runs in the capital. NATO’s mandate under a United Nations resolution is to protect civilians amid a four-month crackdown on the rebel uprising.
“NATO will be defeated,’’ Khadafy yelled in a hoarse, agitated voice to the crowd. “They will pull out in defeat.’’
In Brussels yesterday, NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu dismissed Khadafy’s speech as “outrageous.’’
“We are saving countless lives every day across the country,’’ she said. “We are conducting operations with utmost care and precision to avoid civilian casualties. Civilian casualties figures mentioned by the Libyan regime are pure propaganda.’’
She also accused Khadafy and his regime of “systematically and brutally attacking the Libyan people,’’ saying government forces “have been shelling cities, mining ports, and using mosques and children’s parks as shields.’’
NATO has been stepping up the pressure on Khadafy’s regime. Though most airstrikes happen at night, daytime raids have grown more frequent.
Lungescu also countered allegations from Libyan Prime Minister Al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi, who accused NATO on Friday of a “new level of aggression’’ and said the military alliance has intentionally targeted civilian buildings in recent days, including a hotel and a university.
“This is a crime against humanity,’’ he told reporters in the capital.