Airstrikes killed 15 civilians, says Libya

A NATO airstrike on a city near the front line in eastern Libya has killed 15 civilians, Libya's state news agency claimed yesterday.

Jana quoted a military official in Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi's forces as saying Nato warplanes hit civilian sites in the oil-refinery town of Brega, including a restaurant and bakery, killing 15 civilians and injuring 20 more.

There was no immediate comment from Nato.

Gaddafi's government has repeatedly accused the alliance of targeting Libyan civilians in its air campaign. Nato insists it does all it can to avoid such casualties.

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Captain Rob Leese, from Nato's operational headquarters in Naples, Italy, said alliance warplanes hit several targets around Brega, but dismissed claims that the attacks had resulted in civilian casualties.

He said: "We have no indications of any civilian casualties in connection with these strikes.

"What we know is that the buildings we hit were occupied and used by pro-Gaddafi forces to direct attacks against civilians around Ajdabiya."

Meanwhile, two large explosions were heard in the capital, Tripoli, yesterday, though it was not immediately clear what the Nato airstrikes may have hit.

The Ministry of Defence said yesterday UK jets had successfully hit a radar station, three command-and-control centres, and a warehouse used to stock military supplies near Brega on Friday - badly damaging or destroying all five targets.

British helicopters dispatched from a Royal Navy warship followed up with further strikes that destroyed three military vehicles and hit infantry positions at various points in the area, including Brega's airfield.

The MoD said that, while many of the stricken buildings had been commandeered by forces loyal to the Gaddafi regime, airstrikes were only ordered after "intensive surveillance".