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NATO accused of betrayal as its jets kill seven rebels

Nato jets killed up to seven rebels by accident yesterday, hitting government tanks which had been captured by the opposition.

In a sign of the fragility of rebel forces, the bombing stopped an opposition attempt to regroup outside the oil town of Brega, which has changed hands repeatedly in the course of the fighting.

"Why did this happen?" asked one fighter, Mohammad Muftar. "The rebels were not threatening any civilians, they were not firing at the planes."

The strike was the second such incident in a week. The previous error, which occurred nearby, killed 13 people.

Fighters said captured tanks had been marked under an agreement with NATO to prevent friendly fire accidents, but to no avail. According to one rebel, up to seven were killed and others seriously wounded.

Witnesses claimed the jets circled for half an hour before firing between two and four missiles. The mistake comes at a difficult time, with the alliance divided over how to proceed after the US withdrawal from frontline attacks and growing evidence to suggest the rebels are unlikely to win a war, even with air cover.

The alliance has been criticised by rebel leaders for not doing enough to defend them, particularly in the besieged city of Misrata. "This is a betrayal," said Mustapha Abdul Rahman, who was being treated in Benghazi. "We're not sure if the tanks were destroyed, we had to flee."

A Nato statement said it was trying to confirm details of the incident. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent