Libya buries 11 imams killed in NATO strike

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NATO carried out new air strikes, after Libyans buried 11 Muslim clerics killed in what Moamer Kadhafi's regime said was an alliance air strike on the oil city of Brega.

The state news agency JANA reported the late Saturday NATO air strikes in the Libyan regions of Bir Al-Ghanam, Njila and the city of Al-Azizya, southwest of the capital Tripoli.

Citing a military source, the agency reported that "civilian and military" sites had been targetted and that the strikes had caused "human and material damage." It provided no further details.

Earlier, Kadhafi's regime criticized a NATO air strike on the eastern city of Brega that the alliance said targeted a military site.

In Paris, senior rebel leader Mahmud Jibril met President Nicolas Sarkozy to discuss the three-month-old conflict and the prospects for transition, a day after a White House session with one of US President Barack Obama's top aides.

At least 50 other people were wounded in the NATO attack on the eastern city of Brega that killed 11 imams, or prayer leaders, early on Friday, government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim said.

Hundreds of people gathered at the cemetery in Shatia al-Henshir, east of the capital, shouting "jihad, jihad;" "martyrs of Libya" and "God, Libya and Moamer."

Major Khuildi al-Hamidi, a long-time confidante of Kadhafi, attended the burial, which was punctuated by commemorative gunfire.

But NATO said a "command and control bunker was struck in Brega early (Friday) morning, as the structure was being used by the Kadhafi regime to coordinate strikes against the Libyan civilian population."

"We are aware of allegations of civilian casualties in connection to this strike and although we cannot independently confirm the validity of the claim we regret any loss of life by innocent civilians when they occur," NATO said.

An imam at a news conference with Ibrahim, identified as Nureddin al-Mijrah, called for revenge against the countries taking part in air strikes on Libya.

He urged Muslims across the world "to take revenge for our brothers who died today. For every man we should take down one thousand men... from France, Italy, Denmark, Britain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates."

Kadhafi, whom Italy claimed on Friday might be wounded and on the run, said he was beyond the reach of NATO bombs.

"I want to say to the Crusader cowards that I live in a place where I cannot be reached or killed; I live in the hearts of millions," he said in an audio message aired late Friday on state television.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini had said Kadhafi was "probably outside of Tripoli and probably also injured," and that the reports came from the Roman Catholic bishop of Tripoli.

But the bishop, Giovanni Martinelli, denied making such comment.

"I only said that he was under psychological shock from the death of his son," he told Radio France Internationale.

An April 30 air strike missed Kadhafi but killed his son, Seif al-Arab, and three of his grandchildren.

Ibrahim told reporters that Kadhafi was in good health and in Tripoli.

Meanwhile, the head of Britain's armed forces urged NATO to "up the ante" in Libya by widening its bombing campaign to include infrastructure targets, in an interview with a Sunday newspaper.

General David Richards, chief of the defense staff, added that if Kadhafi was killed in a strike on a command and control centre, that would be "within the rules" set out by the UN Security Council, he told the Sunday Telegraph.

Late Friday and early Saturday, a series of six loud explosions rocked Tripoli as jets flew overhead. Smoke could be seen rising from one of the sites in eastern Tripoli, witnesses said.

On the battlefield, rebels reportedly made new progress in their advance towards the western port city of Misrata.

An AFP correspondent said they had moved 20 kilometers (12 miles) in the east to reach the gates of Tavarga and in the west they reached the gates of the city of Zliten -- their next main military target on the road to Tripoli.

NATO said it hit two tanks in the Brega area on Friday and listed other "key hits" that day to include a "command and control node" in Tripoli as well as two surface-to-air missile launchers near the capital.

The alliance also reported striking 20 armored vehicle storage buildings around Tripoli on Friday, as well as an armored personnel carrier and four military trucks in the Misrata area.

On the diplomatic front, Jibril was received at the Elysee Palace by Sarkozy and French Prime Minister Francois Fillon.

Saturday's meeting, after which no statement was released, was also intended to discuss where to enlarge the international contact group on Libya, which France wants to include Russia and others.

France, Gambia, Italy and Qatar are the only countries to have formally recognized the rebels' National Transitional Council (TNC) as the Libyan people's legitimate representative.

During a meeting in Rome last week, the contact group decided to set up a special fund to help the rebels.

On Friday, Jibril was received at the White House by Obama's national security adviser Tom Donilon, but failed to garner the prize of US recognition.

The White House, however, said it was working with Congress on changes to the law to allow a portion of around $30 billion (21 billion euros) in Kadhafi regime assets blocked in the United States to be funneled towards the opposition.

On Saturday, rebel chief Mustafa Abdul Jalil held what the insurgents billed as a "town hall" meeting in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi with leaders from western cities that remain under Kadhafi's control.

Separately, the NTC issued a statement encouraging people to save fuel.

"In the same way that Libyan youth rose up on their own to liberate our country, sometimes with the sacrifice of their lives, we firmly believe that Libyans can manage their own consumption of fuel without the need for an administrative decision to be issued," it said.

And the UN special envoy for Libya, Abdul Ilah al-Khatib, said in Athens that he would travel to Tripoli on Sunday for talks with Prime Minister Baghdadi Mahmudi.

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