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Libyan Rebels Defend NATO After Errant Strikes

  • Elizabeth Arrott

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi (file photo)

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi (file photo)

Libya's rebel military is defending NATO after airstrikes killed a number of Libyan civilians. The show of support follows Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's condemnation of the alliance as murderers.

A rebel military spokesman called NATO a legitimate force that is doing its job, carrying out the United Nations mandate to protect Libyan civilians.

Colonel Ahmed Bani argued that anyone who speaks differently about the alliance or blames them for any shortcomings is against the freedom of the Libyan people. Operating from a United Nations mandate to protect Libyans, NATO's air operation has been a linchpin for the rebels seeking to oust Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

NATO's mission has come under increased scrutiny in recent days, as strikes Sunday and Monday claimed the lives of several civilians, including children, in the west of the country.

Last week, alliance aircraft mistakenly fired on a rebel column in Brega, in the east. NATO expressed regret for the loss of civilian life.

In an audio message broadcast late Wednesday, Gadhafi condemned the strikes, saying NATO was killing "our children and grandchildren."

The Libyan government has repeatedly accused the alliance of deliberately targeting civilians, a charge NATO has called "outrageous."

Rebel spokesman Bani, addressing reporters in Benghazi Thursday, laid the blame for the recent deaths on Gadhafi, saying his attempt to cling to power by any means is the reason for the casualties.

Bani added his condolences for those killed, saying whoever dies, on either side, is Libyan.

The rebels' defense of the campaign comes as Italy seeks a halt in the fighting to provide a safe corridor for humanitarian aid. The call was reportedly echoed by Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, quoted in British media as arguing the time is right for a political solution.

France rejected the suggestion, with a foreign ministry spokesman saying the coalition must step up its pressure on Gadhafi. The official said a halt in the air campaign, now it its fourth month, would only give government forces time to regroup.

Meanwhile, International Criminal Court judges are scheduled to decide next week whether Gadhafi will face arrest for crimes against humanity. The court announced on Thursday that a hearing will take place in The Hague on Monday.

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