TRIPOLI (Reuters) - NATO said on Saturday its missiles had hit a site in Libya used by Muammar Gaddafi’s forces to stockpile military supplies and vehicles, while Gaddafi’s state media said 15 civilians had been killed.
A top rebel official said rebels would be ready to discuss any political settlement that did not involve Gaddafi remaining in power, although no proposals had emerged yet at talks with Gaddafi allies that were taking place through intermediaries.
The attack late on Friday was the second within hours on what NATO said were clearly identified military targets in the coastal city of Brega, around 200 km (130 miles) west of the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.
Libyan state television said a local bakery and a restaurant had been hit, wounding 20 people in addition to the 15 dead. State news agency Jana said a strike in the same area earlier on Friday had killed five civilians.
“We have no indications of any civilian casualties in connection to these strikes,” a NATO official said.
“What we know is that the buildings we hit were occupied and used by pro-Gaddafi forces to direct attacks against civilians around Ajdabiya,” the official said. Ajdabiya is rebel-held.
“Unlike the pro-Gaddafi forces, we go to great lengths to reduce the possibility of any civilian casualties,” the official added.
Libyan television later reported that a number of people were killed in a NATO attack late on Saturday on the town of al Qawalish, some 145 km (90 miles) south of Tripoli. It said cars and houses were damaged but gave no further details.
Gaddafi’s government says more than 700 civilians have been killed in three months of Western air strikes, but has not presented evidence of such large numbers of civilian deaths.
The alliance acknowledged accidentally killing civilians in a strike on Tripoli a week ago, but otherwise has said it hit only military targets.
A Reuters correspondent in the capital Tripoli heard four explosions as jets flew overhead on two occasions on Saturday. The blasts appeared to come from the eastern suburb of Tajura.
Libyan television later said shortly before midnight that the NATO-led alliance also had launched air strikes against government buildings in the Khallat al-Farjan area of Tripoli.
In rebel-held Misrata, 200 km (130 miles) east of Tripoli, a rebel spokesman called Abdelsalam said Gaddafi’s forces shelled the city on Saturday but the situation was quieter since a NATO strike on Wednesday which took out pro-Gaddafi positions. A local doctor told Reuters there had been no serious injuries.
NATO’s acknowledgement for the first time that it could have caused civilian casualties a week ago prompted concerns within the alliance.
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said NATO’s credibility was at stake and called for a suspension of the campaign — an appeal that was swiftly knocked down at NATO headquarters and by allies, including France and Britain.
In a televised address this week, Gaddafi branded NATO “murderers” and vowed to fight to the death to stay in power.
The bombing campaign in support of Libyan rebels seeking to end Gaddafi’s 41-year-old rule has lasted longer than expected.
Progress has been slow and rebels have taken many casualties, but there are signs Gaddafi’s forces also are stretched and the economy in areas under his control is feeling the effects of international sanctions.
Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, vice chairman of the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC), recognized by about 20 countries as the legitimate representatives of the Libyan people, reiterated that a political settlement was possible.
“We have agreed to take a serious look at any proposal as long as Gaddafi does not remain in power. We are waiting for any proposals that are (being discussed) around the world,” he told reporters in the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi.
“We have not received anything yet,” he added.
Officials for Gaddafi’s government in Tripoli were not immediately available to comment. They have in the past said they were prepared for a ceasefire, but that Gaddafi would not step down. Rebels reject a ceasefire with Gaddafi in charge.
In what could be a morale-booster for the rebels, four members of Libya’s national football team and 13 other football figures defected to the rebels, the rebel council said.
Additional reporting by Ben Deighton in Brussels, Joseph Nasr in Berlin and Maria Golovnina in Benghazi; Writing by Mark John; Editing by Peter Graff; Editing by Michael Roddy