On Wednesday, Ethiopia’s Tigray region’s capital and another village were struck by new airstrikes, with footage from Mekele showing injured people with bleeding faces being taken to cars and heavy black smoke billowing into the sky. Ethiopia’s government said it targeted weapons manufacturing and maintenance facilities, but a spokesperson for the opposing Tigray troops disputed this.
Meanwhile, the UN has cut its presence in Tigray by more than half, according to the Associated Press, as an Ethiopian government blockade halts humanitarian relief operations and people die from a lack of food.
The conflict in Africa’s second-most populous country has raged for over a year between Ethiopian and coalition forces and Tigray forces, who once ruled the country before falling out with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner.
According to Hayelom Kebede, the former director of Tigray’s renowned Ayder Referral Hospital, at least 14 persons were injured in the airstrikes in Mekele, with three of them in serious condition.
“Airstrikes were really carried out today in Mekele,” Ethiopian government spokesperson Legesse Tulu told reporters, adding that they targeted facilities at the Mesfin Industrial Engineering facility, which Tigray troops use to manufacture and repair heavy weaponry. The airstrikes, according to Legesse, were not intended to damage people.
He described Agbe as a “hub of military training and heavy artillery storage” that was targeted by another attack hours later, between the towns of Hagere Selam and Tembien.
A spokesperson for Tigray denied the Mekele location was linked to weapons. “Not at all,” Kindeya Gebrehiwot told reporters, describing the garage as one with “a lot of worn tires.” That’s why it’s still on fire.”
Amit Abrha, a worker at the facility, said she didn’t hear the aircraft approaching and fainted as a result of the bombing. “I was taken up by strangers. And as the explosions continued, I walked outside and saw a person I knew injured as on the ground,” she said in video footage acquired by the Associated Press, as smoke billowed behind her and neighbors rushed to put out the fire.
The incident happened just two days after Ethiopia’s air force acknowledged bombings in Mekele that killed three children, according to a witness. According to the air force, communications towers and equipment were targeted. Since June, when Tigray troops retook much of the province in a dramatic reversal in the war, Mekele has been devoid of combat.
The bombings have reignited fear in a besieged city, where doctors and others have reported running out of medications and other necessities.
Despite calls by the United Nations and others to provide basic services and humanitarian supplies to Tigray’s 6 million inhabitants, Ethiopia’s government termed such demands “absurd” last week, while Tigray troops fought in the adjacent Amhara and Afar areas. Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes, exacerbating the terrible situation.
“Although not all moves have yet occurred,” U.N. humanitarian spokesman Saviano Abreu told the Associated Press, “there will most likely be a decrease from almost 530 to approximately 220 U.N. employees on the ground in Tigray.” According to him, the decision is “directly connected” to “operational restrictions we’ve been facing over the previous months” as well as the “volatile security environment.”
Because of the government’s blockade on Tigray, humanitarians have found it “very difficult to continue life-saving efforts” at a time when they’re most needed, Abreu noted.
According to him, some 1,200 humanitarian workers, including a reduced United Nations presence, will stay in Tigray.
In recent weeks, news outlets have verified the first hunger fatalities in Tigray as a result of the government embargo.
Humanitarian workers are also attempting to reach displaced and frequently starving people in the Amhara and Afar areas, where communications outages and ongoing fighting make it difficult to verify claims made by the warring parties. Witnesses told the Associated Press that some Tigray troops are killing people, the latest in a war that has seen gang rapes, mass expulsions, and extensive detentions of ethnic Tigrayans.
The airstrikes in Tigray’s capital this week “appear to be part of efforts to undermine Tigray’s armed resistance, which has lately gained significant gains in the eastern Amhara region, with combat still occurring in certain areas,” according to the report. Control of the sky, along with greater personnel, is one of the few remaining areas of military superiority for the federal government, according to International Crisis Group expert William Davison. “However, the bombardment of urban areas strengthens the perception that Addis Ababa is ready to put civilian lives on the line in Tigray as part of its military operations.”