EAST OF BREGA/BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) – A NATO-led air strike killed 13 Libyan rebels, a rebel spokesman said yesterday, but their leaders called for continued raids on Muammar Gaddafi’s forces despite the “regrettable incident.”
In the rebel capital of Benghazi the anti-Gaddafi council also named a “crisis team”, including the former Libyan interior minister as the armed forces chief of staff, to run parts of the country it holds in its struggle to topple Gaddafi.
The 13 fighters died on Friday night in an increasingly chaotic battle over the oil town of Brega with Gaddafi’s troops, who have reversed a rebel advance on the coastal road linking their eastern stronghold with western Libya.
Hundreds of mostly young, inexperienced volunteers were seen fleeing east from Brega towards the town of Ajdabiyah after coming under heavy mortar and machinegun fire.
A contingent of more experienced and better organised rebel units initially held their ground in Brega, but with most journalists forced east, it was unclear whether they had remained inside the town or had pulled back into the desert.
A Reuters correspondent visiting the scene of the air strike saw at least four burnt-out vehicles including an ambulance by the side of the road near the eastern entrance to the town.
Men prayed at freshly dug graves covered by the rebel red, black and green flag nearby.
Most blamed a Tripoli agent for drawing the “friendly fire”. “Some of Gaddafi’s forces sneaked in among the rebels and fired anti-aircraft guns in the air,” said rebel fighter Mustafa Ali Omar. “After that the NATO forces came and bombed them.”
But some gave a different account. “The rebels shot up in the air and the alliance came and bombed them. We are the ones who made the mistake,” said a fighter who did not give his name. The strike killed 13 rebels and wounded seven, rebel spokesman Hafiz Ghoga said, calling it a “regrettable incident”. “The military leadership is working on ways to prevent a recurrence,” he told reporters in Benghazi.