TRIPOLI, Libya — NATO is denying a Libyan government claim that the alliance is intentionally using its airstrikes to assist rebel advances.

Wing Cmdr. Mike Bracken, an alliance spokesman in Naples, Italy, says NATO is "not involved in the ground battles," although he acknowledged the alliance is tracking the fighting between rebels and forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi. He says NATO's mandate remains to protect civilians.

Libya's Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim accused NATO earlier Thursday of intensifying its bombing campaign and backing foreign mercenaries to lay the groundwork for an advance by rebels trying to topple Gadhafi's regime.

Bracken says NATO doesn't have any information to indicate that mercenaries are helping the rebels.