Libya accuses NATO of killing civilians in Tripoli airstrike. Are the charges true this time?

NATO says it is investigating the charges, which come hours after NATO acknowledged mistakenly bombing rebel vehicles.

By , Correspondent

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    In this photo taken on a government-organized tour, members of the media and others examine the remains of a damaged residential building in Tripoli, that the Libyan government accuses NATO of bombing.
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Libyan officials accused the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) of launching an airstrike on a civilian building in the capital, Tripoli, early Sunday, saying the strike killed at least five civilians.

NATO says it is investigating the charges, which were impossible for foreign reporters to verify.

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The accusation comes hours after NATO acknowledged mistakenly bombing rebel vehicles near the front lines of their fight with forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi. The incidents put pressure on NATO at a time when President Obama is struggling with Congress on US involvement in the mission.

The Los Angeles Times reports that Libyan officials bused foreign reporters in Tripoli to an obliterated apartment building on a residential street in the populous Souq Jouma district.

The Times reports that an angry crowd was gathered outside the building, and some witnesses said they heard aircraft before the building exploded around 1:15 a.m. Neighbors told the Times that there were no military buildings nearby, and that those reported killed were members of an extended family with the surname Gharari. The Times correspondent reported that the body of a woman was removed from the rubble, and authorities showed reporters five bodies, which they said were all casualties from the blast, at a Tripoli hospital.

Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim, visiting the site while reporters were there, blamed the bombing on NATO, reported the Associated Press. “There was intentional and deliberate targeting of the civilian houses,” he said. “This is another sign of the brutality of the West."

NATO looking into the incident

The AP reports that a NATO spokesman said the organization is aware of the allegations and is investigating.

In the past, Libya has exaggerated or fabricated accounts of NATO bombings hurting civilians. Reuters reports that in one case, Libyan officials told reporters a young girl’s injuries were the result of a NATO airstrike, but medical staff gave a journalist a note saying the injuries were from a car accident. Libya’s prime minister Friday accused NATO of targeting civilian areas and called on the UN to stop the NATO bombing, according to the AP.

On Saturday, before the reported strike, a NATO spokeswoman in Brussels defended the organization’s military operation in Libya, reports the Associated Press. “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 accused Qaddafi’s forces of “systematically and brutally attacking the Libyan people,’’ by “shelling cities, mining ports, and using mosques and children’s parks as shields."

NATO admits mistakenly bombing rebels

On Saturday, NATO acknowledged mistakenly bombing rebel fighters near the eastern oil city of Brega on Thursday. That's at least the third time the alliance has hit rebels since it began its military operation in Libya, reports the New York Times.

The paper reports that the front lines in the fight have been “blurry” over the last five days, and Qaddafi’s forces have been using civilian vehicles like the rebels in an apparent effort to confuse NATO.

In a statement, NATO said it had spotted the vehicles in an area where Qaddafi forces had recently been operating.

“In a particularly complex and fluid battle scenario, it was assessed these vehicles were a threat to civilians,” said the statement, adding: “We regret any possible loss of life or injuries caused by this unfortunate incident.”

There was no indication of how many people were killed or injured in the incident. NATO planes mistakenly hit rebels twice in April.

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