Wed, Jul 27, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Libyan government accuses NATO of bombing clinic

REBUTTAL:The Western military alliance said it did attack targets near Zliten on Monday, but said there was no evidence that any civilian facilities had been hit


Libya accused NATO of a deadly raid on a clinic as the top US military officer deemed the air campaign at a “stalemate” and Britain eased its stance on Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s future.

The reported NATO air strike on the small clinic in Zliten, east of Tripoli, occurred on Monday morning, a local official told foreign reporters on a guided media tour of the western town. Government minders said the air strike had killed at least seven people.

The journalists saw a completely destroyed building with a crescent sign at its entrance and the ground littered with surgical gloves, oxygen bottles, pharmaceuticals and stretchers, but no victims.

In other parts of Zliten the reporters were shown three damaged food storage buildings and another still on fire, which the government minders also blamed on NATO.

Strewn around the site were hundreds of smouldering bags of rice, tomatoes and vegetable oil, as firefighters tried to extinguish the flames. In the same compound, journalists saw a completely destroyed building bearing the name “Agricultural Security.”

A NATO official yesterday confirmed targets had been struck near Zliten, but said it had “no evidence” that any were civilian facilities.

“NATO struck a number of targets near Zliten [on Monday] that were military in nature. These targets were a command and control node and a vehicle storage facility that contained military vehicles,” the official said.

“We understand that the Qaddafi regime organized a press tour to the area, during which these allegations were made; however, we have no evidence suggesting that these allegations are founded,” the official said.

The official said that as is the case with all NATO strikes, “a thorough damage assessment is conducted afterwards.”

“As always great care is taken to minimize the risk of civilian casualties. We are always concerned by any reports of civilian casualties, take them seriously and the appropriate analysis will be conducted to ascertain the legitimacy, or otherwise, of these allegations,” the official said.

Meanwhile, Libya’s insurgents have accused Qaddafi’s forces of shelling Misrata, targeting gas and oil facilities and setting them on fire. The rebels appealed for help to put out fires caused by the shelling.

In Washington, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen spoke of a “stalemate” in NATO’s Libya campaign, but still voiced optimism the strategy would lead to the departure of Qaddafi.

“We are, generally, in a stalemate,” he said.

He added that NATO has “dramatically attrited [reduced] his forces” and “additional pressure has been brought,” even if Qaddafi has not been ousted.

“In the long run, I think it’s a strategy that will work... [toward] removal of Qaddafi from power,” Mullen said.

In London, British Foreign Secretary William Hague demanded Qaddafi step down, but said he might be allowed to remain in Libya.

Speaking ahead of talks with French counterpart Alain Juppe, Hague said Britain would prefer for Qaddafi to quit Libya and stressed that France and Britain were “absolutely united” in NATO’s current mission against Qaddafi.

“Obviously him leaving Libya itself would be the best way of showing the Libyan people that they no longer have to live in fear of Qaddafi,” he said. “But as I have said all along, this is ultimately a question for Libyans to determine.”

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