NATO has admitted that its warplanes accidentally killed several civilians during an airstrike in Tripoli over the weekend. The Western alliance pointed to a "weapons system failure" as a possible cause of the deaths.
Gadhafi's regime said the attack 'targeted civilians'
NATO acknowledged responsibility late on Sunday for killing several civilians during a bombing raid in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, where embattled leader Moammar Gadhafi continues to hang on to power despite three months of Western airstrikes.
"NATO regrets the loss of innocent civilian lives and takes great care in conducting strikes against a regime determined to use violence against its own citizens," said Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard, commander of NATO's operations over Libya.
NATO claimed in a statement that the civilians were killed when allied warplanes failed to hit a Libyan missile site.
"Although we are still determining the specifics of this event, indications are that a weapons system failure may have caused this incident," Bouchard said.
The NATO military intervention in Libya is sanctioned by United Nations' Resolution 1973, which calls for "all necessary measures… to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack."
'Deliberately targeting civilians'
Libyan government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim said Sunday that the strike hit a residential district of Tripoli, killing 9 people and injuring at least 18.
He said the bodies of five people - residents of an apartment complex in the neighborhood - had been shown to journalists earlier in the day. There was no way for reporters to verify that all the bodies they were shown came from the building.
Rescue workers carry a body from the rubble at the site of the attack in Tripoli
"The other four people were killed as they passed by in front of the block of flats when the raid hit," Ibrahim said, accusing the Western alliance of "deliberately targeting civilians" and insisting there were no military targets anywhere near the neighborhood where the attack occurred.
If confirmed, these first established civilian deaths would be an embarrassment for the alliance which has been leading the bombing campaign under a UN mandate to protect civilians.
The mission was initially led by France, Britain and the US until the end of March, when NATO took over.
Rebels face cash crunch
Despite NATO air support, Libyan rebels fighting Gadhafi's forces in the country have complained that they are running out of resources and cash to keep the fight going.
Rebels control the eastern Mediterranean port city of Misrata and much of the Western Mountains region stretching to the border with Tunisia. But they have failed to seize Gadhafi's powerbase of Tripoli and its hinterland.
On Saturday, the chief rebel oil official Ali Tarhouni slammed Western powers for failing to make good on their promises to help the rebel cause.
"We are running out of everything. It's a complete failure. Either they (Western nations) don't understand or they don't care. Nothing has materialized yet. And I really mean nothing," Tarhouni said in an interview with Reuters.
"All of these people we talk to, all of these countries, at all these conferences, with their great grand speeches - we appreciate (them) ... but in terms of finances they are a complete failure. Our people are dying," he said.
German minister criticizes NATO
The NATO operation in Libya was also criticized by Germany's defense minister over the weekend. He however defended Berlin's decision to stay out of the air offensive aimed at toppling Colonel Moammar Gadhafi's 41-year rule.
Asked if he had a "guilty conscience" over opting out of the intervention in light of current supply problems in Libya, Thomas De Maiziere told German news magazine Der Spiegel that the operation lacked "thorough planning."
De Maiziere criticized NATO's planning in Libya
"Of course when you start something you must always know how long you can continue," he said, adding that Berlin had rebuffed another US request at a NATO meeting this month for military assistance in Libya.
De Maiziere added that he saw little likelihood of Germany taking part in any peacekeeping force in Libya if Gadhafi was overthrown.
"In a country that is hopefully developing democratically, this would neither be necessary nor desirable. I hope that it will not come to an operation of that kind, because Libya will hopefully remain united and develop democratically."
Author: Gabriel Borrud, Spencer Kimball (AFP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Mark Rossman