Air strikes target capital of Ethiopia’s Tigray; 3 civilians dead

Ethiopian military air strikes hit the capital of the Tigray region and killed at least three people, witnesses said on Monday, returning the war abruptly to Mekelle after several months of peace.

Ethiopia’s government initially dismissed the reports, but the state media later confirmed the air force had struck the targets of the region’s ruling party Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

The Ethiopian Press Agency said the raids hit media and communications equipment used by the TPLF, adding that “measures to prevent civilian casualties during the air strikes were done successfully”.

UN chief Antonio Guterres was “deeply concerned” about the escalation of the conflict and called for all sides to avoid targeting civilians and to stop fighting, his spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price issued a similar entreaty.

“We urge all parties to end hostilities immediately and for the Ethiopian government and the TPLF … to enter into negotiations without preconditions toward a sustainable ceasefire.”

The raids, confirmed by two humanitarian workers, came days after a new military offensive was launched against the Tigray forces who have fought Ethiopian and allied forces for nearly a year.

Kindeya Gebrehiwot, a spokesman for the Tigray authorities who lives in Mekelle, told The Associated Press a market was bombed on a busy shopping day and many people were wounded.

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Another resident, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, said the first air strike occurred just outside the city and three children from the same family were killed. The resident said at least seven people were wounded in the second attack, which also badly damaged a hotel.

Mekelle has not seen fighting since late June, when the Tigray forces retook much of the region and Ethiopian troops withdrew.

Since then, Ethiopia’s federal government has called all able citizens to crush the Tigray fighters who dominated the national government for 27 years before being sidelined by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

Tigrai TV – controlled by TPLF – said the attack on the city of Mekelle was carried out by “Abiy Ahmed”.

A government spokesman initially denied air strikes were launched on the regional capital.

“There is no reason, or no plan, to strike civilians in Mekelle, which is a part of Ethiopia, and home to our own citizens. This is an absolute lie,” Legesse Tulu, head of the government communication service, told AFP news agency.

“It is a total and absolute lie of the TPLF junta, just to misguide the international community, to create pressure on the Ethiopian state.”