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NATO chief 'regrets' Libyan rebels' deaths

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said he 'regrets' the deaths of Libyan rebels killed in an alliance airstrike. His comments came just after a NATO commander refused to apologize for the incident.

A dust cloud is seen following the explosion of a missile, outside the strategic oil port of Brega, Libya

NATO says it "regrets" the loss of life

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Friday expressed "regret" over the deaths of Libyan rebels, killed in an alliance airstrike on Thursday.

"This is a very unfortunate incident. I strongly regret the loss of life," he said in a statement broadcast on NATO's online TV channel.

His comments came just hours after NATO's deputy commander of Libya operations refused to apologize for the incident.

"The situation on the ground was extremely fluid and remains extremely fluid. Up until yesterday we had no information that TNC [Transitional National Council] or opposition forces were using tanks," British Rear Admiral Russell Harding told reporters.

At least five Libyan rebels were killed and several others wounded when NATO fighter planes bombed a rebel tank column near the eastern port city of Brega.

The latest incident comes after NATO strikes killed nine rebels and four civilians in the same area last week, with the alliance saying the bombing was an "unfortunate incident."

At the same time, the rebels have accused NATO of being too slow to order airstrikes that they have come to depend on in their uprising to end more than four decades of rule by leader Moammar Gadhafi.

A stalemate

A top US general maintained Thursday it was unlikely that Libyan rebel forces could oust Gadhafi, saying the conflict appeared to be turning into a stalemate.

General Carter Ham, who led the first stage of the coalition air campaign in Libya, said the international bombing raids had succeeded in protecting civilians for the most part but that Gadhafi's regime probably would not be removed by military means.

Asked at a Senate hearing about the chances that the opposition could "fight their way" to Tripoli and replace Gadhafi, Ham said: "Sir, I would assess that as a low likelihood."

And when pressed by Senator John McCain whether the situation was an "emerging stalemate," Ham said: "Senator, I would agree with that at present on the ground."

His comments underscored growing concern in Washington and European capitals that the fight in Libya could be deadlocked, with Gadhafi firmly in control in Tripoli and badly-organized rebels unable to turn the tide even under the cover of NATO-led air power.

German support

Foreign Minister Westerwelle

Berlin is ready to take part in humanitarian mission

In Germany, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle announced his country was prepared to participate in a possible European Union humanitarian mission to Libya.

He said if the United Nations asked Germany for assistance it would not flinch from its responsibility. This would cover medical and military-logistical support to protect refugee transport operations.

Philipp Missfelder, the foreign policy spokesman for the parliamentary group of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), said Germany had "a moral obligation" to partake in a humanitarian mission in Libya.

The German lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, would have to approve the Bundeswehr mission.

Last month, EU foreign ministers agreed to launch a humanitarian mission if asked to by the UN.

Author: Rob Mudge, Michael Knigge (AFP, Reuters, dpa)
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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