NATO air strike kills mother and children
Nato's mission to protect civilian lives in Libya has been called into question after it admitted carrying out an air strike in a coastal town in which a mother and two children were killed.
The strike on a two-storey home in the suburbs of the town of Zlitan, 160 miles east of Tripoli, killed the wife and two children of Mustafa Naji, a physics teacher, and provoked local anger against the bombing campaign.
The regime of Col Muammar Gaddafi seized on the attack to press claims that innocent people had been killed.
Nato's efforts to assist advances by rebels from central Misurata have embroiled the alliance in an urban war for control of Zlitan. Bombed schools and flattened food warehouses are being used by Gaddafi loyalists as staging grounds for continued attacks.
Despite the use of fixed-wing aircraft and helicopter gunships and despite rebel claims that the town had fallen earlier this week, fighting raged yesterday on Zlitan's eastern fringes.
The Naji home stood 10 miles from the front line. Regime officials said the family were ordinary people who had feasted just hours before to celebrate the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Its concrete floors had collapsed and the rooms were destroyed. By mid-morning it was impossible to tell if the building had ever been used by Gaddafi's forces, unlike the nearby law college and school where the bombed buildings were littered with military paraphernalia.
Ibtisam Naji and her children, Mohammad, five, and Muttasim, three, were buried within hours at an emotional funeral next to a local mosque.
"Nato say they are protecting civilians but they are turning their weapons on us. The UN Security Council should investigate this," said Ali Adil, a lawyer and neighbour
A nephew pulled off the funerary shrouds to reveal the bloodied faces of the dead. "Those that are fighting with Nato are traitors against their country," said Mohammad Ali Berber, a cousin of the victim.
A Nato spokesman said the organisation had struck a target at 6.30am in Zlitan and that it was investigating the allegations of civilian casualties.
Despite Misurata rebels claiming that they had taken the centre of Zlitan, there has not yet been heavy downtown fighting. But as the fighting has encroached, locals have fled. However, the main impediment to the fall of the town is the hatred of local tribes towards Misuratans. The proximity of the two towns belies a deep-rooted antipathy.
Many local families are the descendants of slaves captured by the pirates that operated from Misurata in the 19th century. "I have no friends or acquaintances from Misurata, I know nobody from there," said local Khalifa Misha. "They have no right to come here. We will resist this conquest until the last drop of blood." (© Daily Telegraph, London)