Libya says NATO bombed clinic, alliance denies

AFP , Tuesday 26 Jul 2011

Libya accuse NATO of a deadly raid on a clinic as the top US military officer deemed the air campaign at a 'stalemate' and Britain eased its stance on Gaddafi's future

A large fireball erupts from a burning fuel depot container in Misrata's port July 25, 2011. The rebel-held western Libyan city of Misrata is facing chronic fuel shortages as a fire continues to rage through a fuel storage facility at the city's port on Monday, 24 hours after a rocket from pro-Gaddafi forces struck the site. (photo by REUTERS)

The reported NATO air strike on the small clinic in Zliten east of Tripoli occurred Monday morning, a local official told an AFP correspondent on a guided media tour of the western town.

Government minders said the air strike had killed at least seven people.

The foreign journalists saw a completely destroyed building with a crescent sign at its entrance and the ground littered with surgical gloves, oxygen bottles, pharmaceuticals and stretchers, but no victims.

In other parts of Zliten the reporters were shown three damaged food storage buildings and another still on fire, which the government minders also blamed on NATO.

Strewn around the site were hundreds of smouldering bags of rice, tomatoes and vegetable oil, as firefighters tried to extinguish the flames.

In the same compound, journalists saw a completely destroyed building bearing the name "Agricultural Security."

A NATO official on Tuesday confirmed targets had been struck near Zliten but said it had "no evidence" that any were civilian facilities.

"NATO struck a number of targets near Zliten (on Monday) that were military in nature. These targets were a command and control node and a vehicle storage facility that contained military vehicles," the official told AFP.

"We understand that the Gaddafi regime organised a press tour to the area, during which these allegations were made; however, we have no evidence suggesting that these allegations are founded."

The official said that as is the case with all NATO strikes "a thorough damage assessment is conducted afterwards."

"As always great care is taken to minimise the risk of civilian casualties. We are always concerned by any reports of civilian casualties, take them seriously and the appropriate analysis will be conducted to ascertain the legitimacy, or otherwise, of these allegations," the official said.

Zliten lies about 150 kilometres (100 miles) east of Tripoli, Kadhafi's stronghold, and 60 kilometres (35 miles) from rebel-held Misrata.

Libya's insurgents meanwhile accused Gaddafi’s forces of shelling Misrata, targeting gas and oil facilities and setting them on fire, in a statement received by AFP.

The rebels appealed for help to put out fires in Misrata, Libya's third city, caused by the shelling.

"The loyalist forces shelled strategic regions inside Misrata, hitting gas and oil warehouses," the statement said, adding that speedy assistance was needed to extinguish the fires "threatening civilians."

In Washington, the top US military officer Admiral Michael Mullen spoke of a "stalemate" in NATO's Libya campaign but still voiced optimism the strategy would lead to the departure of Gaddafi.

"We are, generally, in a stalemate," said Mullen, the US Joint Chiefs of Staff.

He added that NATO has "dramatically reduced his forces" and "additional pressure has been brought," even if Gaddafi has not been ousted.

"In the long run, I think it's a strategy that will work... (toward) removal of Gaddafi from power," Mullen said.

In London, meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary William Hague on Monday demanded that Gaddafi step down but said the Libyan leader may be allowed to remain in the North African country.

Speaking ahead of talks with French counterpart Alain Juppe, Hague said Britain would prefer for Gaddafi to quit Libya and stressed that France and Britain were "absolutely united" in NATO's current mission against Gaddafi.

"What is absolutely clear, as Alain (Juppe) has said, is that whatever happens, Gaddafi must leave power," said Hague, who has previously indicated that he wanted the strongman to leave Libya.

"Obviously him leaving Libya itself would be the best way of showing the Libyan people that they no longer have to live in fear of Gaddafi.

"But as I have said all along, this is ultimately a question for Libyans to determine," added Hague.

Juppe said the allies were in "perfect co-operation" over the UN-sanctioned mission, which began in March, despite suggestions in France that the mission was dragging on too long.

"We think that we must continue to exert strong pressure on the Libyan regime with the same methods," he said.

Juppe last week said that "one of the possibilities being considered" in a possible ceasefire deal is that Gaddafi stay in Libya but on condition he steps aside from political life.

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