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Libya says NATO strike kills 19 civilians
Officials say attack targeted key Gaddafi aide, but NATO says it bombed "a legitimate military target".
Last Modified: 21 Jun 2011 12:07
NATO acknowledged that a 'weapons failure' may have led to civilian casualties on Sunday in Tripoli [Al Jazeera]

The Libyan government says 19 civilians have been killed in a NATO air strike on the home of one of Muammar Gaddafi's top officials, a day after the Western military alliance admitted killing civilians in a separate attack.

Libyan officials took reporters to Surman, 70km west of Tripoli, to the site of what they said was a NATO air
strike on the home of Khouildi Hamidi.

The officials said the attack on the home of Hamidi, a member of Libya's 12-strong Revolutionary Command Council, led by Gaddafi, took place on Monday morning.

Rescue teams were looking for survivors while reporters visited the site.

Reporters were then taken to a hospital in nearby Sabrata where they were shown nine bodies, including those of two children, plus some body parts, which the officials said were all of people killed in the attack.

The state-run Jana news agency later reported on its website that eight children were among 19 people killed in the attack.

The dead included members of Hamidi's family, it said. The government said Hamidi himself was not hurt.

'Legitimate military target'

NATO said it had bombed a "legitimate military target, a command and control node" in the area, and it could not confirm whether civilians had been hurt. It said NATO did not target specific individuals.

"This was a clear strike by NATO on a high value command and control node used to co-ordinate attacks against civilians," NATO military spokesman Mike Bracken said in a statement on Tuesday.

"NATO is aware of allegations that this strike caused casualties... that is something we cannot verify."

Bracken also addressed claims on Libyan state television that a NATO Apache attack helicopter came down over Libya. He confirmed that NATO had lost an unmanned helicopter drone over Libya, but he denied the report that it was a manned Apache air craft.

"NATO confirms it has not lost any attack helicopter," he said, adding that an "unmanned autonomous helicopter drone" was on an intelligence surveillance mission over Libya and lost contact with its command centre.

"We are looking into the reasons behind the incident," he said.

Tripoli strike

If the Libyan government's account of civilian deaths in Surman is confirmed, the incident could further complicate operations for the NATO-led military alliance, which is starting to feel the strain of a campaign taking longer and costing more than planned.

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NATO acknowledged on Sunday that a "weapons failure" had led to civilian casualties after a strike intended to hit a missile site erred and destroyed a house in Tripoli.

Libyan officials say NATO forces have killed more than 700 civilians, although they have presented no evidence of large numbers of civilian deaths.

They say one of Gaddafi's sons and three of his grandchildren were killed six weeks ago.

Franco Frattini, Italy's foreign minister, said on Monday that civilian deaths posed a risk to the NATO-led military alliance.

"NATO is endangering its credibility, we cannot risk killing civilians," Frattini told reporters before an EU foreign ministers' meeting in Luxembourg to discuss ways to aid the rebels fighting Gaddafi.

The Arab League, which in March asked the UN Security Council to impose a no-fly zone over Libya to protect civilians, condemned Sunday's mission by NATO.

"When the Arab League agreed on the idea of having a no-fly zone over Libya it was to protect civilians but when civilians get killed this has to be condemned with the harshest of statements," said deputy secretary-general Ahmed Ben Helli.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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