The Libyan government said Tuesday that a NATO airstrike near the western city of Zlitan had killed 85 villagers, including children, state television reported - a claim swiftly called into question by the military alliance.
Footage showed what the broadcaster said were the burned bodies of at least three children under the age of 9 in a hospital. It also showed women and children being treated for injuries. The country is to hold a three-day mourning for the deaths, the channel reported.
The report said the victims were from the village of Majar, which is near Zlitan, to the east of the capital Tripoli, where NATO forces have been intensifying their strikes on government troops.
A spokesman for the military alliance confirmed that its jets had struck three times overnight a former farm complex in Zlitan that had been turned into "a military staging area" for the troops of Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi.
"We do not have evidence of civilian casualties at this stage, although casualties among military personnel - including mercenaries - are very likely due to the nature of the target," Colonel Roland Lavoie told reporters from operational headquarters in Naples, Italy. He, however, also said that a final "battle assessment" of the airstrike is still pending.
Lavoie said NATO was aware of the television footage showing women and children and does "take seriously these allegations," but also noted that "they are very frequently organized in a very timely fashion to coincide with" the alliance's regular press briefings.
"I can tell you that the target was indeed military based on solid intelligence," he added. "By striking it, NATO has reduced the pro- Gadhafi forces' capability to attack and threaten civilians."
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