Bloomberg News

NATO Probing Libyan Claims of Civilian Deaths in Tripoli

June 19, 2011

(Updates Libyan death toll, adds call for Jihad in second paragraph. See EXTRA and MET for more on regional unrest.)

June 19 (Bloomberg) -- NATO said it was investigating reports of the deaths of several civilians in an airstrike on Tripoli in Libya, shortly after confirming it had accidentally bombed a rebel column in Brega.

A missile strike today destroyed a house in the Souk al- Gomaa residential area, killing nine civilians including two children and wounding 18 others, Libyan Foreign Minister Abdul Ati Al-Obeidi said at a press conference in Tripoli. He called on Muslims to initiate a “global Jihad” against the West.

NATO said in an e-mailed statement that it was investigating the missile strike. NATO earlier confirmed that its aircraft mistakenly hit a column of rebel military vehicles on June 16 near the Libyan oil port of Brega.

“NATO has looked into reports of an airstrike that hit opposition forces in the area of Brega and can confirm that NATO aircraft hit military vehicles,” the North Atlantic Treaty Organization said in a statement on its website today. “We regret any possible loss of life or injuries caused by this unfortunate incident.”

While repeated similar incidents would cause “difficulties,” there probably isn’t very much pressure from NATO members who are politically opposed to the organization’s involvement, Richard Ottaway, chairman of the U.K. parliament’s Foreign Affairs Select Committee, said in a television interview with BBC News today.

Growing Opposition

Opposition has been growing in the U.S. and Europe to the United Nations-mandated aerial campaign against Muammar Qaddafi’s forces, which is intended to protect civilians. Four months after the uprising against Qaddafi began, rebel troops have failed to take and hold strategic towns such as Brega while other cities, such as the rebel-held port city of Misrata, remain under siege by loyalist forces.

Violence in the region has helped push up oil prices, with futures up 22 percent from a year ago.

Libyan officials today took reporters to the site of the alleged airstrike to tour the collapsed building. Strewn amidst the rubble were clean clothes and white diapers free of dust. The building appeared to have been unfinished before its collapse and was pock-marked by small holes. Across the street, plastered repairs done to a wall with similar holes were dry.

Clean Clothes, Diapers

The building is located in a district close to Souk al- Gomaa, where the opposition to Qaddafi says an uprising against him took place in March. It was not possible to independently verify the Libyan claims that the building was destroyed by a bomb.

A Syrian family of four, including two children, died in the Tripoli attack, Syrian state television reported.

“NATO has conducted strikes in Tripoli in the last 24 hours and we are aware of the allegations made by Libyan state TV and we are looking into the matter,” said NATO Spokesman Wing Commander Mike Bracken. “Any reports of civilian casualties are taken very seriously.”

In the U.S., the White House has come under pressure from politicians including House Speaker John Boehner, who accused President Barack Obama of trying to “conceal” a Justice Department opinion that the U.S. mission in Libya needs congressional authorization to continue.

The Ohio Republican released a statement early yesterday after Obama declined in a letter to Boehner to address the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel’s views on whether the War Powers Resolution of 1973 applies to the mission. The administration produced a report on June 15 saying the U.S. is serving a support role to the NATO-led mission, and is not engaged in the “hostilities” that require the backing of Congress.

Italy Cutoff Date

Italy may consider setting a cutoff date for its participation in the NATO mission in Libya, Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa said in an interview published yesterday by the daily Corriere della Sera. The move may “serve as a stimulus” to the U.S., France and the U.K. to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis, he said.

U.K. Treasury Minister Danny Alexander said Britain’s military operations in Libya are costing “hundreds of millions” of pounds.

“The campaign is costing tens of millions, potentially into the hundreds of millions, as it goes on, but that money is coming from the reserve that we have set aside precisely for contingencies such as this,” Alexander said in a television interview on Sky News today. “It doesn’t have an effect on any other spending.”

--With assistance from Nayla Razzouk in Amman, Scott Hamilton and Mike Harrison in London, and Margaret Talev and James Rowley in Washington. Editors: Andrea Snyder, Ann Hughey

To contact the reporter on this story: Maher Chmaytelli in Tripoli at mchmaytelli@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net.


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