Ethiopia’s military has launched new air raids on Tigray, the second round of bombardments this week against rebel targets in the war-battered region.
The air raids mark a sharp escalation in the near yearlong conflict in northern Ethiopia pitting government forces and their allies against the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), Tigray’s once-dominant governing party.
The government said it bombed weapons caches in the regional capital Mekelle and the town of Agbe which lies about 80km (50 miles) to the west.
Government spokesman Legesse Tulu told news agencies that it targeted “facilities that TPLF have turned into arms construction and repair armaments sites”.
At least 14 people were injured in the air attacks in Mekelle and three were in critical condition, Hayelom Kebede, the former director of Tigray’s flagship Ayder Referral Hospital, told The Associated Press.
TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda said Wednesday’s bombing raid on Mekelle had targeted a residential “causing injury to civilians and harm to property”.
“[President] Abiy’s reaction to his losses in the ongoing fighting is to target civilians hundreds of kms away from the battlefield,” he said on Twitter.
Mekelle had not seen fighting since June, when Tigrayan forces retook much of the region in a dramatic turn in the war.
Since then, fighting has intensified in two other Ethiopian regions – Amhara and Afar – where the federal government’s military is trying to recover territory taken by the TPLF.
A humanitarian source in Mekelle told the Reuters news agency the air raid in the city was in 05 Kebelle, an area near a cement factory on the city’s outskirts.
Separately, the AFP news agency quoted a Mekelle resident as saying that an industrial site had been destroyed in the air raid.
“It was heavy and the jet was so close,” the resident said. “It has burned the whole compound. We don’t know the casualties but now the whole company is burned to ash.”
The attacks came two days after Ethiopia’s air force confirmed air raids in Mekelle that a witness said killed three children. The air force said communications towers and equipment were attacked.
William Davison, the International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Ethiopia, said that the attacks “appear to be part of efforts to weaken Tigray’s armed resistance”, with the TPLF making gains in areas of the Amhara region to the south of Tigray.
“Along with superior manpower, control of the skies is one of the few remaining areas of military advantage for the federal government.”
International pleas to stop the fighting, which has so far killed thousands of people and forced more than two million to flee their homes, have failed.
Tigray, a region of five million people, remains under a de facto blockade, with the warring parties each accusing the other of hampering the delivery of desperately needed aid.
“The bombing of urban areas … reinforces the impression that Addis Ababa is willing to risk civilian lives in Tigray as part of its military efforts, something also demonstrated by the continued federal constraints on aid flows and refusal to provide electricity, banking, and telecommunications services to the region,” the ICG’s Davison said.
“As such, the air raids may have the effect of strengthening the Tigrayan resolve to resist, rather than weaken it.”