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Reporters taken to mass funeral in Libyan town, nearby hospital|
CNN August 10th 2011
Majer, Libya (CNN) -- Deafening peals of gunfire heralded the arrival of the caskets. There were 28 in all. One of them was only about two feet long and held aloft by a single man.
Some of the robed men carrying these crude coffins wept loudly. All of them repeated the same chant: "There is no God but Allah, and a martyr is loved by Allah."
At one point, some of the mourners pointed to the sky. A single warplane roared high overhead, appearing white against the cloudless blue backdrop.
Libyan government officials said the mass funeral witnessed by foreign journalists Tuesday in the village of Majer accounted for a fraction of the people killed by a series of deadly airstrikes late Monday night.
"Eighty-five Libyan civilians, including 33 children, 20 men, 32 women and we're still counting, were massacred last night in an intensive air raid by NATO on the town of Majer," declared the spokesman for Moammar Gadhafi's besieged government, Musa Ibrahim.
It is impossible for CNN to confirm the extent of the casualties, and whether or not they were all civilian.
Ibrahim addressed journalists from the rubble of one of five houses that he said had been bombed the previous night. Inside, a burned mattress was still smoking and the smell of explosive was in the air. As Ibrahim spoke, two plumes of smoke erupted in the distance. It wasn't clear whether the explosions came from airstrikes or artillery.
Ibrahim accused NATO of bombing Majer to clear the way for rebels to advance on the embattled Gadhafi-controlled city of Zlitan, located just a few kilometers to the north.
"This is a crime beyond imagination," he concluded.
For weeks, NATO warplanes have been bombing Zlitan on a daily basis. Meanwhile, rebels have been pressing toward Zlitan's eastern gates from the nearby opposition-held port of Misrata.
In an e-mail to CNN, NATO confirmed that aircraft bombed targets south of Zlitan Monday night. But a spokesman for the military alliance denied targeting civilians.
"NATO had very clear intelligence demonstrating that former farm buildings were being used as a staging point for pro-Gadhafi forces to conduct attacks against the people of Libya," wrote a public affairs officer with NATO's Operation Unified Protector, on condition of anonymity. "We do not have evidence of civilian casualties at this stage, although military casualties, including mercenaries, are very likely owing to the nature of the target."
Determined to prove there was no presence of military personnel, Libyan government officials escorted a busload of foreign journalists to the scene of the bombardment.
There were three neighboring compounds containing five bombed-out houses. Mattresses, clothes and books littered the ground.
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