NATO says Libya attack may have killed civilians

NATO acknowledges that one of its airstrikes in Libya may have caused civilian casualties.
Libyans display children's clothes at a house that the Libyan government said was damaged by NATO airstrikes. (Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters)

NATO is acknowledging that one of its airstrikes in Libya may have caused civilian casualties.

The errant air strike happened early Sunday in the east of the capital, Tripoli, and was due to a "weapons system failure," a NATO official said.

Libyan officials say nine civilians were killed, including two children. Officials took reporters to the building that was hit, where children's toys, teacups and dust-covered mattresses could be seen amid the rubble.

A NATO commander said it "regrets the loss of innocent civilian lives and takes great care in conducting strikes." NATO said it has launched 4,400 airstrikes since the beginning of attacks on Libya, which the alliance says are meant to protect civilians from leader Moammar Gadhafi's regime.

This is the third admission by the alliance that they have hit an unintended target, the most recent coming Saturday when NATO said it mistakenly hit a convoy of rebel fighters opposed to Gadhafi near the oil port of Brega.

BBC journalist saw 2 bodies

Journalists at the scene of the Tripoli bombing said rescue workers were digging through the rubble of the house with their bare hands before bringing in a bulldozer and equipment to cut through steel cables enmeshed in the concrete.

The BBC's Jeremy Bowen said he saw two bodies at the scene, one in an ambulance and one being taken out of the rubble. He said journalists were also taken to a hospital in Tripoli and shown the same two bodies. In all, he said he saw the bodies of three adults and two young children whom authorities said were killed in the strike early Sunday.

NATO has previously accused Gadhafi of using mosques, parks and university buildings as shields for his military operations.

NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu told The Associated Press in Brussels on Saturday that Libyan claims of more than 850 civilians dying in air strikes were bogus. The alliance gave no figures on casualties.

It also called Libyan government claims that its airstrikes are purposely targeting civilians "outrageous."

The alliance has been ramping up the pressure on Gadhafi's more than four-decade-old regime with bombing raids since March.

China wades in

In a further setback to Gadhafi, China said Monday that Libya's opposition leader would visit Beijing this week, a move that will enhance the credibility of the Transitional National Council, the umbrella organization of rebel groups trying to unseat the Libyan dictator.

China's Foreign Ministry said in a one-sentence statement posted on its website that Mahmoud Jibril would be in China on Tuesday and Wednesday. No other details were immediately available.

China stayed on the sidelines for the first few months after the revolt against Gadhafi's government erupted in mid-February, but it has recently stepped up efforts to persuade the two sides to seek a settlement.

After Chinese diplomats in Qatar met with the rebel council chairman, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, earlier this month, Libyan Foreign Minister Abdul-Ati al-Obeidi was dispatched to Beijing days later in an apparent attempt to reassert the Libyan government's influence.

Beijing has pointedly avoided joining international calls for Gadhafi to step down, saying that is for the Libyan people to decide.

With files from The Associated Press