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NATO Responds to Libya Claim that Strikes Killed 15 Civilians


In this photo taken on a government-organized tour, Khaled, center, and Mohammed, center left, sons of Khoweildi al-Hamidi, a close associate of Moammar Gadhafi, left, pray among others next to bodies of two children during a funeral in the city of Surman

In this photo taken on a government-organized tour, Khaled, center, and Mohammed, center left, sons of Khoweildi al-Hamidi, a close associate of Moammar Gadhafi, left, pray among others next to bodies of two children during a funeral in the city of Surman

NATO officials have responded to Libyan claims that alliance forces struck a restaurant and bakery in the eastern city of Brega, killing 15 civilians, saying its aircraft hit "legitimate military targets."

A spokesman for the NATO mission in Libya said Saturday that allied warplanes hit key command and control centers in the strategic port city, adding that the coalition has "no indications of any civilian casualties in connection with these strikes."

He said NATO had "meticulously monitored" the targeted sites, which were used by forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi "to direct attacks against civilians around Ajdabiya."

Libya's state news agency quoted a military official as saying NATO warplanes hit a number of civilian areas Saturday in Brega, an oil refinery town near the eastern front.

Meanwhile, two large explosions rocked the capital, Tripoli, Saturday. It was not immediately clear if the blasts were the result of an attack by NATO, which has repeatedly targeted the area in the past.

Also Saturday, the BBC reported that 17 Libyan football (soccer) players, including four members of Libya's national team, defected to the opposition. BBC News quoted national goalkeeper Juma Gtat as saying Gadhafi should "leave us alone and allow us to create a free Libya."

Gtat announced the defections in the western rebel-held town of Jadu along with Adel bin Issa, coach of Libya's top club.

On Friday, the International Committee for the Red Cross reunited 300 people from Tripoli with family members in eastern Libya, under rebel control.

An ICRC-chartered ship pulled into Benghazi harbor on the first of three journeys the Red Cross has arranged to bring home those displaced by months of conflict in Libya. Another 110 people, stuck away from their homes since February in eastern Libya, will take the ship back west to the capital.

Rebels fighting Gadhafi's forces have taken over much of the eastern half of the country. They also control pockets in the west, including the vital port city of Misrata, about 200 kilometers from the capital, Tripoli.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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