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NATO regrets striking Libyan rebel vehicles in airstrike

NATO said Saturday it mistakenly struck a column of Libyan rebel vehicles in an airstrike near an eastern oil town two days earlier and expressed regret for any casualties that might have resulted.

The alliance statement gave no figures on casualties from Thursday's airstrike, but said it regretted "any possible loss of life or injuries caused by this unfortunate incident."

NATO said its forces spotted a column of military vehicles near the frequent flash point town of Brega where forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi had recently been operating and hit them because they believed they posed a threat to civilians.

"NATO can now confirm that the vehicles hit were part of an opposition patrol," the statement said.

Earlier Saturday, NATO accused Gadhafi's forces of using mosques and children's parks as shields for his military operations and said the Libyan leader is "brutally attacking" his people.

At least two explosions shook the capital, Tripoli, Saturday as NATO jets soared above the city, hours after Gadhafi lashed out against airstrikes in a speech Friday night, insisting "NATO will be defeated." It was not immediately clear what had been hit or if any casualties were reported.

In Brussels on Saturday, NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu dismissed Gadhafi's speech as "outrageous."

The alliance, which has a mandate to protect civilians, has been ramping up the pressure on Gadhafi's regime as a four-month uprising devolved into a civil war. Though most airstrikes happen under cover of darkness, daytime raids have grown more frequent.

Libya's Health Ministry released new casualty figures that put the number of civilians purportedly killed in NATO airstrikes through June 7 at 856. The figure could not be independently verified, and previous government-announced tolls from individual strikes have proven to be exaggerated.

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