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NATO investigates reports of Libyan 'friendly-fire' incident

NATO is checking reports that an airstrike hit rebel tanks, killing up to five people and wounding several others. Meanwhile, Gadhafi's personal appeal to the US to end the military campaign has fallen on deaf ears.

Libyan rebels

A NATO airstrike may have hit rebel tanks

NATO said on Thursday it was looking into reports that one of its fighter jets was involved in a friendly-fire incident which killed as many as five Libyan rebels and wounded 10 others.

The airstrike was said to have occurred near the eastern oil town of Brega where two rebel tanks were reportedly hit, according to witnesses and medical officials.

A NATO spokeswoman said it was proving difficult to get details about the alleged incident. It comes after NATO strikes killed nine rebels and four civilians in the same area last week, with the alliance saying that the bombing was an "unfortunate incident."

Meanwhile, the US has rejected a personal appeal from Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi asking President Barack Obama to halt the NATO military campaign in the North African country.

Obama received a rambling, three-page letter from Gadhafi asking for a halt to a western air campaign against his forces. But US officials on Wednesday bluntly dismissed the plea. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Gadhafi should impose a ceasefire, withdraw his forces and go into exile.

"Mr. Gadhafi knows what he must do," Clinton told a news conference with Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini.

"There needs to be a ceasefire, his forces need to withdraw from the cities that they have forcibly taken at great violence and human cost. There needs to be a decision made about his departure from power and ... his departure from Libya," she said.

Decision must lie with the Libyan people

Moammar Gadhafi

Gadhafi has remained defiant despite international pressure

Gadhafi has remained defiant, however, with his information minister, Moussa Ibrahim, telling journalists earlier in the week that Gadhafi was "the safety valve" for the unity of the country's tribes and people.

He said the Libyan people, rather than other nations, must decide Gadhafi's future. Foreign governments should engage in a give-and-take dialogue on reforms in the North African country, he said.

"We think he is very important to lead any transition to a democratic and transparent model," Ibrahim said. "How Libya is governed, this is a different matter. What kind of political system is implemented in the country? This is negotiable, we can talk about it."

Ibrahim said the government was willing to consider various options in its negotiations with the West, such as elections or referendums.

Humanitarian concerns

Meanwhile, NATO will allow Libyan rebels to bring supplies by sea to the city of Misrata, which is under siege by forces loyal to Gadhafi.

The city has sustained several weeks of heavy shelling, according to the United Nations, which said hundreds had been killed or injured.

A spokesman for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was deeply concerned about deteriorating humanitarian conditions in cities including Misrata, Brega and Zintan.

"Conditions in Misrata are especially grave, with reports of the use of heavy weapons to attack the city, where the population is trapped and unable, as a result of heavy shelling that has continued over several weeks, to receive basic supplies, including clean water, food and medicines," the spokesman said.

Libya is locked down under a UN naval blockade and no-fly zone, but NATO decided to open the sea route for the rebels after criticism that the Western alliance was not fulfilling a UN mandate to protect civilians.

Authors: Rob Mudge, Darren Mara (AFP, Reuters)
Editors: Sabina Casagrande, Martin Kuebler

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