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Libya `civilians among 13 dead` in coalition raid

Last Updated: Saturday, April 2, 2011 - 23:35

Ajdabiya (Libya): A coalition air raid has killed 13 people, four of them civilians, some 15 kilometres
(10 miles) east of the battleground Libyan oil town of Brega,
a rebel civilian official said.

The four civilians comprised an ambulance driver and
three medical students from the second city of Benghazi, who
were part of a rebel convoy of five or six vehicles, said Issa
Khamis, liaison officer for the rebels` transitional
government in the town of Ajdabiya, east of Brega yesterday.

The strike came as rebel fighters were shooting tracer
fire into the air to celebrate the entry of an advance column
into Brega.

"It was a mistake (by the rebel fighters)," Khamis
added. "The aircraft thought they were coming under attack and
fired on the convoy."

A spokeswoman for NATO, which leads the international
coalition, said the alliance was concerned about reports of
civilian deaths.

NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said the alliance was investigating, and appeared to suggest that its aircraft on patrol had encountered ground fire and had retaliated.

"The exact details are hard to verify because we have no reliable source on the ground," Lungescu said. "Clearly, if someone fires at one of our aircraft they have the right to defend themselves."

Mohammad Bedrise, a doctor in a nearby hospital, said three burned bodies had been brought in by men who said they had been hit after firing a heavy machine gun in the air in celebration. Idris Kadiki, a 38-year-old mechanical engineer, said he had seen an ambulance and three cars burning after an airstrike.

Rebels said to a news agency that the fighters were hit by about 12 miles (20 kilometers) east of the town of Brega, which has gone back and forth between rebel and government hands in recent weeks.

Opposition spokesman Mustafa Gheriani called the airstrike "collateral damage."

"As regrettable as it may be, we understand that we might have to give up lives for the greater good. We have to look at the bigger picture," he said. "This is a war and the lines are so fluid going back and forth, so it`s natural that mistakes will happen."

NATO, which on Thursday took over what had been a US-led military campaign to stop Gadhafi from attacking his own people, also is investigating whether other airstrikes have killed civilians in western Libya, as the Libyan government claims. The United States, meanwhile, was ending its role in combat missions Saturday, leaving that work for other nations.

The loosely organized rebel force had been acting in a more disciplined fashion in recent days. On Friday only former military officers and the lightly trained volunteers serving under them were allowed on the front lines. Some were recent arrivals, hoping to rally against forces loyal to the Libyan leader who have pushed rebels back about 100 miles (160 kilometers) this week.

The greater organization was a sign that military forces that split from the regime to join the rebellion were finally taking a greater role in the fight after weeks trying to organize. It was too early to say if the improvements will tip the fight in the rebels` favor. They have been struggling to exploit the opportunity opened by international airstrikes hammering Gadhafi`s forces since March 19.

Bureau Report

First Published: Saturday, April 2, 2011 - 23:35

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