TRIPOLI, Libya – Mohammed al-Gherari lost five family members, including a youngniece and nephew, when NATO accidentally struck their compound inthe Libyan capital as they slept. Nearly a year later, his grief is compounded by threats andallegations from neighbors who believe he and others who survivedthe attack were harboring a regime loyalist or hiding weapons forMoammar Gadhafi’s forces. At least 72 civilians, a third of them under the age of 18, werekilled by NATO airstrikes, according to a report released Monday byHuman Rights Watch — one of the most extensive investigationsinto the issue. The New York-based advocacy group called on theWestern alliance to acknowledge the casualties and compensatesurvivors.
The decision by the United States and its NATO allies to launch anair campaign that mainly targeted regime forces and militaryinfrastructure marked a turning point in Libya’s civil war, givingrebels a fighting chance. But Gadhafi’s government and allies inRussia and China criticized the alliance for going beyond its U.N.mandate to protect civilians. The number of Libyans killed or injured in airstrikes also emergedas a key issue in the war as Gadhafi’s regime frequentlyexaggerated figures and NATO refused to comment on most claims,insisting all targets were military. At one point, Libya’s Health Ministry said 856 civilians had beenkilled in NATO’s campaign, which began in March 2011, weeks afterthe uprising against Gadhafi that erupted with peaceful protestsevolved into a civil war.
The U.N.-appointed International Commission of Inquiry on Libyasaid earlier this year that at least 60 civilians had beenunintentionally killed and recommended further investigation. Based on investigations conducted in Libya from August 2011 throughthis April, Human Rights Watch established that 28 men, 20 womenand 24 children had been killed in eight NATO bombings in Tripoli,Zlitan, Sorman, Bani Walid, Gurdabiya and Gadhafi’s hometown ofSirte. The advocacy group acknowledged the figure was relatively lowconsidering the extent of the seven-month campaign, which thealliance has said included 9,600 strike missions and destroyedabout 5,900 military targets. It ended after Gadhafi’s death inlate October. Mobile Antenna Bracket
The group said it had documented several cases in which thereclearly was no military target and criticized NATO for failing toacknowledge the deaths or to examine how and why they occurred. In Brussels, NATO said it had carried out the bombing campaign with”unprecedented care and precision” and had fulfilled therequirements of international humanitarian law. “NATO did everything possible to minimize risks to civilians, butin a complex military campaign, that risk can never be zero,”spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said Monday. “We deeply regret anyinstance of civilian casualties for which NATO may have beenresponsible.” She said the alliance had looked into each allegation of civiliancasualties. DVB-T Car Antenna
“We have reviewed all the information we hold as an organizationand confirmed that the specific targets struck by NATO werelegitimate military targets,” Lungescu said. The alliance did not have troops on the ground during or after theconflict who could have independently checked the results of itsairstrikes. HRW recommended that NATO make public information about theintended military targets in cases where civilians were wounded orkilled and provide “prompt and appropriate compensation” tofamilies who suffered from the attacks. The strike against al-Gherari’s compound on June 19, 2011, was arare case in which the Brussels-based alliance admitted it had madea mistake. “It appears that one weapon did not strike the intendedtarget and that there may have been a weapons system failure whichmay have caused a number of civilian casualties,” it said in astatement. GSM GPS Antenna
The Libyan government rushed a group of foreign journalists basedin Tripoli to the site, eager to use the deaths as propagandaagainst the West. Children’s toys, teacups and dust-coveredmattresses could be seen amid the rubble, and the journalists wereshown the bodies of at least four people said to have been killedin the strike, including the two young children. Al-Gherari said government officials disappeared shortly after thefanfare ended and the family received no compensation or financialassistance from either side. Meanwhile the NATO acknowledgment,which did not provide details, failed to satisfy neighbors whocontinued to accuse the family of harboring a regime figure.
“I want NATO to present a full explanation that the reason was amistake because we’re still facing accusations that Gadhafi or ahigher regime figure was there and that’s why our house wastargeted,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press. He said five people were killed, including his 2-year-old nephewand a 7-month-old niece. Human Rights Watch said it visited the site in the Souk el-Jumaneighborhood in August and December and “did not see any evidenceof military activity such as weapons, ammunition or communicationsequipment.” It also said satellite imagery showed no signs ofmilitary activity at the home. The deadliest attack recorded by the rights group was in the ruralvillage of Majer, south of the former rebel stronghold of Zlitan.
The first bomb hit a large, two-story house owned by Ali HamidGafez, a 61-year-old farmer. It was crowded with people who hadfled the fighting in nearby areas. That was followed by three morebombs that killed 34 people killed, including many who had rushedto the site to help after the earlier explosions. Human Rights Watch said it visited the area the day after the Aug.8, 2011, strikes and found no evidence of military activity,although it did find one military-style shirt in the rubble. “I’m wondering why they did this, why just our houses,” one of theresidents, Muammar al-Jarud, was quoted as saying in the report.”We’d accept it if we had tanks or military vehicles around, but wewere completely civilians and you can’t just hit civilians.” ___ Gamel reported from Cairo.
Associated Press writer Slobodan Lekiccontributed to this report from Brussels.