Addis Abeba — Several civilians were killed and injured in an aerial strike at an open market in the Tigray region on June 22, 2021. Togogua market in Dogu'a Tembien woreda is located some 25 km west of Tigray's capital Mekelle. Sources from Ayder hospital in Mekelle said that ambulances were prevented from traveling to the area and subsequently the number of casualties could rise as ambulances were blocked at the checkpoint by military forces. Victims including children have been reported to arrive at the hospital
Addis Standard learned from sources that Five injured civilians so far arrived at Ayder Hospital including 2 years old Eldana Gebresilasie, whose mother spoke of her injuries to Addis Standard. Eldana's mother said while in tears, "A plane came suddenly then launched an attack around us, everything turned into smoke of dusk till we couldn't tell between dead or alive. I hardly managed to bring my daughter to Mekelle. My daughter is getting medical attention and I am worried if she is going to survive or not."
Chief Clinical Director of Ayder Hospital, Dr. Kibrom Gebre Selassie, on the other hand, told Addis Standard that the hospital admitted five victims arrived at the hospital by vehicles of the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) on the same day of the attack. The hospital's ambulance also brought in a girl injured by a bullet. However, Dr. Kibrom said, "There is no doubt that the number of casualties could be worse." The doctor also said that they have undergone abdominal surgery on a 2 years old child, one of the 5 who arrived at the hospital on the same day of the attack.
According to the source, ambulances from the hospital that tried to reach Togogwa were prevented from passing through the checkpoint by military forces stationed there. Addis Standard also spoke to the family of a victim named Hadera Hayelom aged 13 who was killed in the attack while she went shopping at the market along with her mother Kiros Gebremedhin, 45. The family members who are grieving said that Kiros also suffered injuries and is seeking medical treatment.
Furthermore, Hadera's family indicated that they have been informed that at least 35 people were killed including a priest named Gebrehiwot aged 52, Abreha Hagos 13, and a crop vendor Haile Selassie Alemayehu aged 45 was also killed in the incident. Addis Standard also learned that an entire family consisting of Gebrelibanos Fithanegest along with his wife and son were killed on impact. Addis Standard was informed by a health worker in Ayder Hospital about the arrival of 32 injured patients from Togogua. The health worker also said that the prohibition of ambulances heading to the area has now improved. "Up to Six ambulances are bringing more people to the hospital from the scene."
Another eyewitness, Woldemichael, a vendor in the market, told Addis Standard that a massive strike hit the market around noon where so many people gather weekly for shopping and selling. He said, "I saw dozens dead and injured in the area where I was sitting." Woldemichael survived the attack and is now at Ayder hospital looking after his cousins who were injured.
Meanwhile, Colonel Getnet Adane, a spokesman for the Ethiopian Defense Force (ENDF) told BBC that the military never carried out airstrikes on the market mentioning that the army has the ability to hit its target correctly. "We have carried out airstrikes but only on selected and limited targets", he said, adding, "The allegations of attacks on a market place are completely false."
In another interview, the spokesman of the ENDF said that the only combatants, not civilians, were struck in an airstrike this week. He explained that the combatants in the town of Togogua were dressed in civilian clothes. According to the spokesperson, the combatants were not inside the market but had gathered in the town to commemorate the anniversary of the bombing of another town in Tigray, Hawzen, in 1988. The ENDF's Chief of Staff, General Birhanu Jula also corroborated the statement by saying, "The airstrike didn't take place at noon, it was carried out at 4 PM." he said, adding "Market is not open at this hour." Refuting the claims of civilian casualties Birhanu said, "The operation was aimed at a bandit group led by an individual called Migbey."
The EU called the attack 'extremely worrying' and condemned the targeting of civilians. In a statement, the EU said, "Such practice constitutes a grave violation of the Geneva Convention and of International Humanitarian Law." The EU also reiterated calls for an immediate ceasefire in the region and unrestricted humanitarian access to all those affected by the conflict. Joining the EU in calls for an immediate ceasefire and unhindered humanitarian access, the US called for an independent investigation and urged to hold those responsible for this attack accountable
Addis Standard's repeated attempts to reach the spokesperson of the ENDF and officials in the Interim Administration of Tigray were to no avail. AS