NATO Denies Killing Civilians in Libya Strike

A photo taken on a government tour shows mourners carrying the coffin of 15 people Libya said were killed in a NATO air strike, on June 22 in Tripoli. NATO has come under verbal fire again from Moamer Kadhafi's regime, which accused it of killing 15 more people in strikes on civilian sites in the eastern city of Brega, a claim promptly denied by the alliance. (AFP/File/Mahmud Turkia)

NATO Denies Killing Civilians in Libya Strike

Two loud explosions have been heard in the Libyan capital Tripoli as jets flew over the city, Reuters news agency reported witnesses as saying.

Earlier on Saturday, Libyan state TV reported that at least 15 people were killed in strikes on civilian sites in the eastern city of Brega, a claim promptly denied by NATO.

"The colonialist crusader Atlantic coalition bombed civilian sites, among them a bakery and a restaurant in Brega, creating 15 martyrs and more than 20 wounded, among them regular clients of those places," state TV reported.

The report, which did not say when the attack took place, referred to a NATO "war of extermination" and "crimes against humanity" in Libya.

However, state news agency Jana said the attack was on Saturday and spoke of five more "citizens" killed a day earlier.

Following the Libyan television claim, the NATO spokesman said the alliance "did target buildings in an abandoned area of Brega".

"These were legitimate military targets that were hit We took a long time to watch the area and make sure. Meticulous planning went into this."

NATO dissent

As far as NATO is concerned, he said, "any people in that area at that time were legitimate military targets."

In its daily operations report, the alliance said that on Friday it had targeted 35 objectives, including military vehicles and installations, around Brega, a key refinery town some 800km east of Tripoli and 240km southwest of the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

Earlier this week, after NATO admitted misfires that Tripoli says caused several deaths, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini called for a suspension in the campaign in the latest sign of dissent within NATO.

"I believe an immediate humanitarian suspension of hostilities is required in order to create effective humanitarian corridors," while negotiations should also continue on a more formal ceasefire and peace talks, he said.

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said more civilians would die if operations were not maintained under a UN mandate to protect Libyans from the exactions of the government of veteran leader Muammar Gaddafi.

"NATO will continue this mission because if we stop, countless more civilians could lose their lives," Rasmussen said in a video statement on the NATO website.

Meanwhile, 17 of the country's top players, including national goalkeeper Juma Gtat, have defected to rebels, the BBC reported.

Adel bin Issa, the coach of Tripoli's top club al-Ahly, announced the defections in the rebel-held Nafusa Mountains in western Libya.

"I am telling Colonel Gaddafi to leave us alone and allow us to create a free Libya," the BBC quoted Gtat as saying at a hotel in the town of Jadu.

"In fact I wish he would leave this life altogether."

Gaddafi has suffered a series of defections by military officers, diplomats and members of his government, but has resisted efforts by rebels backed by a NATO bombing campaign to dislodge him after four decades in power.

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