Libyan Bishop Criticizes NATO Strikes

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The top church official in Libya expressed fear that the protracted conflict there would generate fighting among factions and tribes, but said he believed a negotiated solution was still possible, the Vatican’s missionary news agency reported.

Bishop Giovanni Martinelli of Tripoli, Libya, also told the Fides news agency June 8 that “whoever thinks they can resolve everything with bombs is mistaken.”

Bishop Martinelli has been an outspoken critic of the NATO bombing campaign against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s forces, which have been battling to put down a widespread rebellion since late February.

Intense NATO bombing made for “a terrible day” June 7, the bishop said. The government said at least 60 missiles hit Tripoli, killing more than 30 people that day.

“The political situation is not clear,” Bishop Martinelli told Fides. “We are waiting for developments and progress in dialogue and peace. I still believe in dialogue.”

The bishop said what he fears most “is conflict between the factions of the Libyan people; if they start to battle one another, it will be terrible.” Bishop Martinelli has said repeatedly that the airstrikes were causing many civilian deaths and extreme hardship for local people.

Pope Benedict XVI has appealed for a cease-fire and a halt to the bombing in order to seek a diplomatic settlement.

Meanwhile, the Italian newspaper Liberal, quoting unnamed Italian and Russian diplomatic sources, reported that Gadhafi was hiding in the bishop’s residence in Tripoli.

Father Ciro Benedettini, vice director of the Vatican press office, said he had not heard the report; the Italian Foreign Ministry said it had no information.

When contacted by journalists June 8, Bishop Martinelli denied the claims, saying the reports that Gadhafi could be hiding in his residence were “unfounded, almost unthinkable.”

“If he wanted to come to church, as a Franciscan, I would welcome him,” the bishop said.

But “I have had absolutely no contact recently with Gadhafi or with Libyan authorities,” he said. Besides, the church would have risked being a target of NATO bombing if Gadhafi had been housed there, he added.

There have been conflicting reports about Gadhafi’s whereabouts. Italian newspapers reported that he appeared on Libyan television following the latest NATO bombardment saying, “Dead or alive, I will stay in Tripoli,” and “we are stronger than your missiles.”

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