LIBYA’S regime accused NATO of killing at least seven people in an air raid on a medical clinic in Zliten, east of Tripoli, after rebels repulsed a counter-attack by loyalist troops south of the capital.
The strike on the small clinic for communicable diseases occurred between 4pm-4.30pm (AEST), a local official told an AFP correspondent among a group of foreign journalists on a guided tour of the western town.
The journalists saw a completely destroyed building with a crescent sign at its entrance and ground littered with surgical gloves, oxygen bottles, pharmaceuticals and stretchers, but no victims.
Five ambulances were on standby as rescue teams scoured the rubble for other possible victims.
The reporters were also taken to another part of Zliten where they were shown three damaged food storage buildings and another still on fire, which the government minders also blamed on NATO.
Strewn around the site were hundreds of smouldering bags of rice, tomatoes and vegetable oil, as firefighters tried to extinguish the flames.
Residents said the strike occurred around 11am (AEST).
In the same compound, journalists saw a completely destroyed building bearing the name “Agricultural Security”.
The minders spoke of other air strikes that caused “civilian casualties” early on Monday, but did not elaborate.
Zliten lies about 150 kilometres east of Tripoli, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s stronghold, and 60 kilometres from the rebel-held coastal enclave of Misrata, Libya’s third city.
The tour of Zliten came after rebel forces repulsed a counter-offensive by Gaddafi loyalists southwest of the capital.
Regime troops had attacked the western desert hamlet of Gualish on Sunday and shelled the region before pulling back under rebel rocket fire as NATO warplanes flew overhead, an AFP correspondent reported.
Rebels in Gualish said they had prevented regime forces from getting within at least a kilometre of the hamlet, and that they had been reinforced from Zintan, their base in western Libya.
The insurgents, who have been fighting to oust Gaddafi since mid-February, recaptured Gualish this month and are planning to use it as a springboard for a western assault on Tripoli.
They said their campaign to attack the capital from the east has been slowed by efforts to remove an estimated 45,000 land mines from around the oil town of Brega.
“We have no choice. We have to clear the sand of mines,” Mohammed Zawawy, a spokesman for the Union of Revolutionary Forces in Ajdabiya, told AFP.
Rebels have captured up to 20 regime troops since they seized Brega on July 18, he said, adding one prisoner claimed loyalists had sown “over 45,000 mines” there.
“The front line is calm with no fighting yet because the focus is on demining,” said Zawawy, estimating the number of Gaddafi troops inside Brega at no more than 1000 as “the fire from their side is a lot less”.
The rebels, he said, were demining an average of “200 mines per day” and would only be able to move faster if they received additional help, including equipment and expertise.
In the capital itself, Gaddafi’s compound came under NATO air attack on Sunday.
“British forces … helped to maintain the pressure on Colonel Gaddafi’s regime by bombing a key intelligence building in Tripoli and inflicting further losses on forces massed against the Libyan people at Zliten and Gharyan,” British military spokesman Nick Pope said.
Tornado and Typhoon warplanes on Sunday struck an engineering academy that has “long been a cover for the regime’s nefarious activities”, he said in the statement issued in London on Monday.
“Also on Sunday morning, other RAF jets successfully attacked two staging posts near Zliten being used to muster tanks, rocket artillery and ammunition.”
In its latest operational update on Monday, NATO said it struck one tank in Zintan, and another tank and a multiple rocket launcher in nearby Gharyan.
It also took out another tank, a surface-to-air missile launcher and a military storage facility in Tripoli, and another such facility in Brega.
The strikes came after rebels said they had infiltrated Tripoli and attacked a regime command post where a son of Gaddafi, Seif al-Islam, was among those targeted, seriously injuring a high-ranking security official.
Tripoli denied the attack, with spokesman Mussa Ibrahim saying the rebels were losing in the east and southwest, and were trying “to boost their morale with lies and small victories”.
Gaddafi said on Saturday the unrest was a “colonial plot” and denied accusations by rights groups of a brutal suppression of dissent and allegations his regime had killed thousands of protesters.
Meanwhile, Ibrahim al-Furis, a Libyan diplomat declared persona non grata in Bulgaria, refused on Monday to leave the country and with other staff organised a minor rebellion at the embassy in Sofia, denouncing Gaddafi’s regime.