Gaddafi government accuses NATO of 'massacre'

Bloc denies government claim that 85 killed in strikes near capital, as opposition leaders regroup after reshuffle.

    Opposition fighters in the west have battled for control of a town that sits astride a road to Tripoli and the coast

    Muammar Gaddafi's government has accused NATO of the "massacre" of 85 civilians in air strikes in support of the country's opposition fighters, a claim the military bloc has denied.

    State television showed the charred bodies of at least three children who were allegedly killed by a NATO strike on Monday night in the village of Majar, about 150km east of the capital, Tripoli.

    It also showed wounded women and children being treated in a hospital.

    The Libyan government announced three days of mourning for the victims, according to state television.

    Mussa Ibrahim, the Libyan government spokesman, said: "After the first three bombs dropped at around 21:00 GMT on Monday, many residents of the area ran to the bombed houses to try to save their loved ones."

    "Three more bombs struck. Thirty-three children, 32 women and 20 men from 12 families were killed in the massacre," Mussa told reporters on an organised visit.

    The village of Majar is near Zlitan, on Libya's Mediterranean coast, where NATO forces have been mounting attacks on troops loyal to Gaddafi.

    NATO rejects claims

    NATO said overnight air strikes near the city of Zlitan in western Libya were "legitimate" and that it had no evidence of Tripoli claims that the bombs killed 85 villagers.

    "We do not have evidence of civilian casualties at this stage," Colonel Roland Lavoie, the NATO spokesman for the alliance's Libya campaign, said at a video conference held at its Naples headquarters.

    The bloc has also rejected growing international criticism of its air strike on Libyan television last month, saying it had no evidence the attack caused any casualties.

    Spokeswoman Carmen Romero said the alliance had not deliberately targeted journalists. She said the alliance "targeted equipment that had been used to incite attacks against civilians".

    Libyan officials said the strike on the eve of the Muslim fasting month, Ramadan, on the state television's satellite transmitters killed three journalists and injured 15 others.

    International journalists' groups condemned the strikes, saying they violated a UN resolution banning attacks on the media.

    On Monday, the UN cultural and educational body also denounced the strike, saying it violated the Geneva Conventions.

    Meanwhile, NATO warplanes bombed a Libyan warship docked in Tripoli harbour after reportedly observing that weapons were being take from it that were expected to be used to conduct attacks.

    NATO said it destroyed several Libyan naval vessels in air strikes in May. Warships hit at that time included a Koni-class frigate and a Combattante class fast-attack ship.

    NTC reshuffled

    Meanwhile, in the opposition capital of Benghazi in eastern Libya, the National Transitional Council (NTC) sought to display a show of unity a day after dissolving its executive board and asking Mahmoud Jibril, its chairman, to elect a new one.

    NTC officials said the head of the council, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, dismissed several top ministers - including those responsible for finance, defence and information - while calling for root and branch reform.

    Al Jazeera's Tony Birtley, reporting from the opposition stronghold of Benghazi, said on Tuersday the reshuffling came not only as suprise but as a direct result of the murder of Abdel Fattah Younes, the commander of the opposition forces, more than a week ago.

    Our correspondent said this is a crucial time for the NTC.

    "We are starting to see cracks both politically and militarily and the sacking of the executive committee is a direct consequence of Abdel Fattah Younes' death.

    "There has been considerable pressure brought to bear by Younes’ tribe - with 4,000 well armed fighters the Obeidis are one of the largest in the east - and they wanted resignations.

    "The 16- man executive committees have been pushed to one side and they will not return in any shape or form.

    "There are cracks developing but the NTC is taking steps to show that it is in control and in command and is taking the necessary measures to show they have the strength and the unity to continue the fight against Muammar Gaddafi," Birtley said.

    In an interview with Al Jazeera on Monday Abdul Jalil said: "Administrative mistakes have been noted in the NTC bureau performance in recent period, prompting the NTC to take the decision to dissolve the bureau.

    "A newly formed bureau would be entrusted with reviewing  the 'conspiracy' that involved the assassination of General Younes. The members of the executive bureau did not dispose with the assassination issue in a proper manner," he said.

    Asked whether they were accusing anyone, Abdul Jalil said, "No member of the opposition fighters would behave that way with the commander of the national army and his colleagues, unless there is a conspiracy."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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