x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Nato air strike 'kills women and toddlers' in Libya

Qaddafi government shows bodies to reporters as Nato says it will look into the deaths, but insists it was attacking legitimate military targets.

A Libyan rebel fighter and volunteers help a fighter injured during a battle with forces loyal to Muammar Qaddafi near Misurata yesterday. Zohra Bensemra / Reuters
A Libyan rebel fighter and volunteers help a fighter injured during a battle with forces loyal to Muammar Qaddafi near Misurata yesterday. Zohra Bensemra / Reuters

TRIPOLI // Libyan officials showed reporters five bodies, including two toddlers, they said were among nine civilians killed in a "barbaric" Nato air raid yesterday, as pressure mounted on the alliance to allow a political solution.

Government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim accused the western alliance of "deliberately targeting civilians", insisting there were no military targets anywhere near the residential neighbourhood of Tripoli that was hit.

"Nato is looking into this matter," said alliance spokesman Wing Commander Mike Bracken in Brussels. "Nato was operating in Tripoli last night, conducting air strikes against a legitimate military target.

"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.

If it is confirmed the civilian deaths were caused by Nato, it would be an embarrassment for the alliance, which has led the bombing campaign under a United Nations mandate to protect civilians.

Mr Ibrahim demanded that the alliance end its "aggression" to pave the way for dialogue, speaking just hours after organisations including the Arab League, the European Union and the UN highlighted the importance of "accelerating the launch of a political process" to end the conflict.

Journalists were taken to the Al Arada district of Tripoli to see rescue teams and bystanders desperately searching for survivors among the wreckage of a two-storey block of flats.

An Agence Fracne-Presse correspondent saw two bodies pulled from the rubble.

Journalists were then taken to a Tripoli hospital where they were shown the bodies of a woman and two toddlers who officials said were members of the same family and had died in the raid.

Mr Ibrahim said four passers-by were also killed, bringing the death toll to nine, and that 18 people were wounded.

"It is another night of massacre, terror and horror at the hands of Nato," Mr Ibrahim charged. Western leaders "are morally and legally responsible for these murders. This is not propaganda. It is not something that we can stage."

Libyan officials have been on the defensive over their credibility after showing journalists a little girl in hospital two weeks ago they said was wounded in a Nato air strike. One of the medical staff said she had been in a traffic accident.

Mr Ibrahim called on Nato to halt its "aggression" against Libya to pave the way for dialogue to end a conflict now in its fifth month."Nato is very good at attacking and killing people but it is very bad at starting dialogue," he said.

The alliance has acknowledged mis-hits in the past, mostly involving rebel fighters wrongly identified as loyalist troops.

On Saturday, Nato acknowledged that aircraft under its command had accidentally hit a rebel column near the oil refinery town of Brega on the front line between the rebel-held east and the mainly government-held west on Thursday.

The alleged civilian casualties in the capital come amid mounting international pressure on Nato to seek a negotiated solution as the front lines show little movement despite the protracted bombing campaign.

After talks in Cairo on Saturday, the African Union, Arab League, EU and UN issued a joint statement on the importance of "accelerating the launch of a political process that responds to the legitimate aspirations of the Libyan people".

The EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, attended the meeting along with outgoing Arab League chief Amr Mussa and African Union head Jean Ping, while UN chief Ban Ki-moon joined by live video link.

Mr Ban said the roots of a negotiating process were showing but that the international community needed to give a "consistent message" on a political solution. His comments came after both the Libyan prime minister, Baghdadi al Mahmudi, and the Russian envoy, Mikhail Margelov, insisted that contacts were under way between the two sides, despite furious rebel denials.