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Libya blames apartment bombing on NATO

An apartment building in the middle of a densely populated Tripoli neighborhood was obliterated early Sunday, and Libyan officials blamed the explosion on a bombing raid by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Several witnesses among the angry crowd gathered outside the semi-collapsed building said they heard aircraft before the post-midnight blast.

The blast occurred in the Arada Street neighborhood of the Souk Juma district, a sprawling community that is one of Tripoli’s most populous.

Photos: Libyan apartment bombing

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The building that was hit was in the middle of a residential street and about 150 yards from a major secondary school.

Residents standing outside insisted there were no military installations in the neighborhood.

“This was a purely civilian street,” said one man, who said he was against the government of Moammar Kadafi but still condemned the bombing. “I think the sooner Kadafi goes the better. But for NATO to bomb a street like this is criminal. There is no military here anywhere.”

The neighborhood has been a center of opposition to Kadafi, especially during the disturbances that broke out in February and were put down by his regime.

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Government officials bused international journalists to the scene. The Libyan government has been saying for months that NATO bombs are killing many civilians but has found it difficult to provide proof of civilian casualties.

Scores of people in pajamas and sandals gathered on the rubble-strewn street well into the early morning hours. Volunteers carted out chunks of concrete as they searched for survivors or the deceased. The body of a woman was found and taken away on a stretcher as the search continued. Bulldozers moved huge pieces of concrete and twisted wires. Children’s clothing was seen in the rubble.

Witnesses said the explosion occurred about 1:15 a.m.

The final death toll was not known. Journalists were shown five bodies at Tripoli’s Central Hospital. They consisted of three adults and two children, one a 9-month-old girl who was still dressed in diapers; her corpse was laid out on a gurney.

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Authorities and neighbors said the victims were all part of one extended family, with the surname Gharari.

There was no immediate word from NATO on the incident.

It comes as the war of words between NATO and the Libyan government has been heating up.

The government here has accused NATO of increasingly hitting civilian targets and has demanded a United Nations investigation. In one recent incident, the government said a NATO bomb destroyed a hotel that was just 200 yards from a trio of 12-story apartment buildings. The dwellings suffered broken windows. The government also alleged that NATO hit a bus southwest of Tripoli this week, killing a dozen people.

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In another incident, the government said a NATO bomb destroyed a factory where oxygen and nitrogen are fabricated for medical uses. That building, however, was adjacent to a military facility that had been heavily bombed. The government says that hospitals will now face a shortage of oxygen for operations and for the treatment of premature babies because the factory was destroyed.

NATO has said it takes every precaution to avoid civilian casualties.

Earlier, NATO had acknowledged that it mistakenly bombed a column of rebel vehicles near the eastern city of Port Brega on Thursday, resulting in an unknown number of casualties. It was at least the fourth friendly-fire incident in which NATO hit rebel positions, causing a total of at least 30 deaths and many injuries.

Photos: Libyan apartment bombing

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patrick.mcdonnell@latimes.com


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