Ethiopia: Witnesses Say Civilians Killed As Airstrikes Hit Tigray Capital

Mekelle, Ethiopia / Washington — Witnesses in Ethiopia's Tigray region said at least two people were killed and several others were injured in two airstrikes Monday carried out by government forces on the regional capital, Mekelle.

Residents who spoke to VOA's Tigrigna Service said the airstrikes hit two areas: the Enderta district in the morning and the Adi Haki market, later in the day.

The Ethiopian government initially denied launching the attacks, but the state-run Ethiopian Press Agency later acknowledged the airstrikes and said they targeted communications infrastructure.

"Action [was taken] against media and equipment used by the TPLF [Tigray People's Liberation Front] terrorists in Mekelle," the press statement said. The TPLF is a former member of the coalition that ruled Ethiopia for more than 30 years. In May, Ethiopia designated the group a terrorist organization.

Dr. Cherinet Gebru works at Mekelle's flagship Ayder Referral Hospital. He told VOA there were nine victims admitted Monday after the first airstrike.

"From the three people who were initially admitted, two were already dead. One was 12 years old. He was a child, and the other one was 14 years old, and we couldn't help save them," he said.

The doctor said the staff at the hospital is monitoring other victims who survived. However, the doctor added, the hospital lacks the medical equipment and medicine to provide proper care, especially for helping those admitted with serious injuries.

Gebremedhin Haylay, a Mekelle resident, said he was on his way to an area called Enda Gabriel, walking with friends when the airstrike hit the Adi Haki market. "There were the three of us and I was hit. My left hand and both my legs are injured," he told a VOA reporter who visited Ayder Hospital.

Another witness, who says he saw injured people in the area, Jemal Kedir, said the bombardment hit an area no more than 30 meters from the market.

"When they [the Ethiopia's federal government] say we are targeting leadership [the TPLF], it is a lie," he said.

Getachew Reda, a TPLF spokesperson, accused Ethiopia's prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, of being unwilling to end the conflict. "He has never been for peace, only the appropriate use of sticks can prod him into considering such path. The #AirStrikeonCivilians in #Mekelle is proof positive that he will do everything to terrorize our people, especially when his forces are losing on the battlefield," he said in a Twitter post Tuesday. "If people had illusions he could keep his promise to resolve the conflict peacefully, yesterday's attack should make it clear that only sticks are effective."

The Ethiopian federal government has been engaged in an armed conflict with fighters from the northern Tigray region for nearly a year.

Mekelle has not seen large-scale fighting since June, when Ethiopian forces withdrew from the area and Tigray forces retook control of most of the region. Following that, the conflict continued to spill into the neighboring regions of Amhara and Afar.

Last week, Tigray forces said the Ethiopian military had launched a ground offensive to push them out of Amhara.

VOA Tigrigna Service's Mulugeta Atsbeha contributed to the report from Mekelle.

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