By Charles Nwoke, Tigray, Ethiopia
Military troops in Ethiopia on Monday, launched air strikes on the capital of the war-torn Tigray region, a dramatic escalation in the age long crisis bedevilling the area.
Ethiopian government had earlier dismissed reports about the bombardments on Mekele as an “absolute lie” but state media later confirmed the air force had struck the targeted Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
A senior staff at Tigray’s biggest hospital said three persons were killed during the air strikes, including two children.
At the early stage of the conflict, there were the first air raids on Mekele in northern Ethiopia that has led to the death of countless numbers of people and caused a deep humanitarian fracas in the country.
The bombardments, reported by residents, humanitarian officials, and diplomats, came as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed‘s government appeared to be pressing a new onslaught against the TPLF, which dominated national politics for close to three decades before he assumed power in 2018.
The Ethiopian Press Agency revealed that the attack hit communications tools used by the TPLF. They added that “measures to prevent civilian casualties during the air strikes were done successfully.”
The United Nations and the United States have decried the spate at which the crisis is escalating.
Sources said, some of the air strike, occurred near a cement industry on the outskirts of Mekele, the city held by the TPLF since June when it was recaptured from government forces.
The second attack according to sources, occurred in the city center near the Planet Hotel, usually used by top government officials from the TPLF, the region’s former ruling party.
Meanwhile, a government spokesperson initially said that the reports are lies concocted by the TPLF “to misguide the international community” and apply pressure on Ethiopia, the second-most populous country in Africa.
Legesse Tulu, head of the Government Communication Service, told AFP that “There is no reason, or no plan, to strike civilians in Mekele, which is a part of Ethiopia, and home to our own citizens. This is absolute lie.”
Ethiopia’s foreign ministry accused the TPLF of “crying wolf” and trying to cover up alleged attacks on civilians in Amhara and Afar, the regions neighboring Tigray where the fighting has spread.
Dr. Hayelom Kebede, research director at Mekele’s Ayder Referral Hospital, told AFP that “many casualties” were coming to the facility and that three people, including two children had been killed.
TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda said on Twitter that government forces were “losing big” and the aerial assaults were designed to inflict civilian casualties as revenge, noting that Monday was market day in Mekele.
The air strikes came as the TPLF appeared to move south of Tigray towards Dessie, a city in Amhara where tens of thousands have sought refuge from the rebel advance since July.
One resident told AFP that Dessie was “flooded” with displaced civilians arriving from Wuchale, which lies to the north.
Legesse said the TPLF had in recent days used heavy weaponry on Wuchale, and accused the rebels of killing more than 30 civilians there.
At the weekend, Getachew said rebels had taken Wuchale, a claim denied by a military official in Amhara.
Getachew said the rebels would march all the way to Addis Ababa if care is not taken.
The rebels have justified their push into Afar and Amhara as necessary to prevent government forces from regrouping and to break what it describes as a humanitarian siege of Tigray.
The fracas ensued in November last year after Abiy sent military forces to Tigray to topple the TPLF.
The 2019 Nobel Peace laureate, who was sworn into a new term in office just two weeks ago, stated that the deployment came in response to TPLF attacks on military base in the region.