TRIPOLI, Libya -- NATO said Sunday it was investigating Libyan claims that nine civilians, two of them of toddlers, were killed in an alliance air raid and would be "very sorry" if that were the case.
"NATO is looking into this matter," said spokesman Wing Commander Mike Bracken. "NATO was operating in Tripoli last night, conducting air strikes against a legitimate military target."
Libyan government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim told AFP that a NATO air strike on a residential district of Tripoli early on Sunday killed nine people, five of them from the same family, and wounded 18.
Earlier in the day, journalists had been shown the bodies of five people, one of them a woman and two of them toddlers.
"The other four people were killed as they passed by in front of the block of flats when the raid hit," Ibrahim said.
The NATO spokesman said in a statement that the military alliance took "all reports of civilian casualties seriously and we will continue to look into the allegations to determine their authenticity".
"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," he added.
In Tripoli, Ibrahim accused the Western alliance of "deliberately targeting civilians," insisting there were no military targets anywhere near the residential neighbourhood of the capital that was hit.
If confirmed, these first established civilian deaths would be an embarrassment for the alliance which has been leading the bombing campaign under a UN mandate to protect civilians.
The incident too comes a day after NATO said its aircraft mistakenly hit a column of Libyan rebel forces in the area of Brega on June 16.
NATO's latest official operational update on the Libya campaign said that aircraft hit a surface-to-air missile storage facility in Tripoli on Saturday.
It listed the following hits in the vicinity of Tripoli -- one command and control facility, two military vehicle storage facilities, one rocket launcher, four artillery pieces and two surface-to-air missile launchers.
On Saturday, NATO said that after looking into reports that an airstrike hit opposition forces in the Brega region on Thursday, "NATO can now confirm that the vehicles hit were part of an opposition patrol".
"This incident occurred in an area of conflict between (Moamer) Kadhafi forces and opposition forces," a statement added.
"We regret any possible loss of life or injuries caused by this unfortunate incident," NATO said.
The statement said a column of military vehicles including tanks was observed in an area where Libyan strongman Kadhafi's forces had recently been operating.
"In a particularly complex and fluid battle scenario, it was assessed these vehicles were a threat to civilians and they were subsequently engaged by NATO aircraft."