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Despite Libyan claims, little evidence of civilian casualties

Libyan state media showed images of those it claimed were killed and wounded in ongoing Western airstrikes, but civilian casualties have been difficult to independently verify.

By Staff writer / March 24, 2011

Qaddafi's supporters take part in a rally in Beni Ulid, Libya, March 23. Western air strikes in Libya entered its sixth day on Thursday as the world questioned the motive behind them.

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Tripoli, Libya

Libyan officials denounced the Western air campaign as inhumane after allied forces hit Tripoli overnight Wednesday with some of the biggest strikes yet seen in the capital and fresh attacks that began after dark Thursday.

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Even as forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi reportedly continued offensives against rebels in several cities, state TV blamed the "crusader aggression" for attacking both military and civilian targets and showed images that it claimed were of those killed and wounded by the strikes.

Qaddafi's government has claimed dozens of deaths since the United Nations Security Council authorized "all necessary measures" to protect civilians from Qaddafi loyalists.

Libya timeline: Airstrikes put pressure on Qaddafi in Misratah

But evidence of casualties has been thin, despite more than 160 cruise missile strikes by US and British forces, and at least 175 sorties by those and French and a Canadian jet fighter in the last 24-hour count.

The civilian death toll nationwide was "getting close to 100," government spokesman Musa Ibrahim claimed late Thursday. He said the Libyans had received "intelligence" that allied forces would strike broadcasting and telecommunications infrastructure overnight.

Qaddafi sought to portray the strikes as a source of strength for the Libyan people, in a recent speech that was still being quoted by state TV Wednesday morning.

“The aggression can only provide the Libyan people with power, unity, and hardness with a united national front,” Qaddafi said. The Libyan leader added that “all the [weapons] stores are open and the masses are armed to defend” his leadership.

'Large number' of civilians killed – state media

Libya’s official JANA news agency said the Tomahawk cruise missile strikes on a military base in the Tajura district of Tripoli late Wednesday had killed “a large number” of civilians.

The agency said a third raid had “targeted rescuers who were trying to remove the dead and wounded from the rubble and the destruction caused by the first two raids,” according to Agence France-Presse.

The footage playing Thursday morning showed what appeared to be a pro-Qaddafi militiaman – a young man with a green swath of cloth used as a headband – lying on a gurney with blood on his face. Another wounded male was shown on another gurney.

The camera also showed the inside of a morgue, with more than a dozen bodies in zipped up hospital-green body bags. The footage was from a Reuters team taken to the central Tripoli hospital after 3 a.m. The bodies they saw were all male and charred and some were struck with large pieces of shrapnel – injuries that appeared consistent with allied attacks. Reuters was told there were 18 or 19 bodies there.

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