Libyan rebels blame deadly strike on NATO mistake
AJDABIYAH, Libya |
(Reuters) - Rebels fighting to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi said five of their fighters were killed when NATO planes mistakenly bombed a rebel tank column near the contested port of Brega in eastern Libya.
In Washington, the head of U.S. Africa command told a Senate hearing the United States should not provide arms to the rebels without a better idea of who they were.
Asked if there was an emerging stalemate in the seven-week-old conflict, General Carter Ham replied: "I would agree with that at present, on the ground."
In rebel-held eastern Libya, wounded rebels being brought to a hospital Ajdabiyah said their trucks and tanks were hit on Thursday by a NATO air strike outside Brega.
NATO said it was investigating an attack by its aircraft on a tank column in the area along the Mediterranean coast on Thursday, saying the situation was "unclear and fluid."
The fighting for Brega, the only active front, has dragged on for a week and has entered a daily pattern of advances back and forth with neither side making major gains.
Medical workers carried blood-soaked uniforms from hospital rooms in Ajdabiyah, gateway to the insurgent stronghold of Benghazi in the east, after wounded fighters were ferried back from Brega.
"It was a NATO air strike on us. We were near our vehicles near Brega," wounded fighter Younes Jumaa said from a stretcher at the hospital.
Nurse Mohamed Ali said at least five rebels were dead.
"NATO are liars. They are siding with Gaddafi," Salem Mislat, one of the rebels, said.
A rebel commander said it appeared to be a case of "friendly fire" and said it did not cause tension with NATO although the rebels wanted an explanation.
Rebels had brought about 20 tanks out of storage and were advancing with them along the coastal desert strip that divides Ajdabiyah and Brega when they were hit, he said.
"We would assume it was NATO by mistake, friendly fire," Abdel Fattah Younes told a news conference in Benghazi, speaking through an English translator.
AIR STRIKES CAUSE STALEMATE
It was the second time in less than a week that rebels had blamed NATO for bombing their comrades by mistake. Thirteen were killed in an air strike not far from the same spot on Saturday.