NAIROBI, Kenya (AP). New airstrikes were launched Wednesday on the Ethiopian capital, the Tigray region, local residents said, as the video showed wounded men with bloody faces being thrown towards vehicles and thick black smoke rising in the sky. The Ethiopian government has said it is targeting weapons manufacturing and repair facilities, which enemy forces spokesman Tigre denied.
Meanwhile, the United Nations told The Associated Press that it is cutting its presence in Tigris by more than half as the Ethiopian government blockade halts humanitarian aid efforts and people are dying of food shortages.
The war in Africa’s second most populous country has been going on for almost a year between Ethiopian and Allied forces and the Tigre forces, which long dominated the national government before falling out with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
There were no reports of deaths as a result of further airstrikes in Mekele, as reported by Kindeya Gebrehivot of Tigraya’s External Relations Department and confirmed by a local resident and humanitarian worker. One resident said five people were injured, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.
“Indeed, there were airstrikes in Mekele today,” Ethiopian government spokesman Legesse Tulu told AP, saying they targeted facilities at the Mesfin industrial construction site that Tigray forces use to manufacture and repair heavy weapons. Legesse said the airstrikes “did not cause the alleged harm to the civilian population.”
“Not at all,” Tigray’s forces Kindeya told AP, calling the place a garage, “with a lot of old tires. This is why it is still burning. “
Amit Abrha, who said she worked at the facility, said she did not hear the airstrike and fell when the attack occurred. “People picked me up. And as the explosions continued, I went out and saw the person I know wounded and lying on the ground, ”she said in a video received by AP as smoke billowed behind her and other residents tried to control the flames.
The attack came two days after the Ethiopian Air Force confirmed airstrikes in Mekel, which, according to an eyewitness, killed three children. The Air Force said it had attacked communications towers and equipment. Mekele has not seen any fighting since June, when Tigray’s forces recaptured much of the region in a dramatic turn of the war.
The airstrikes sparked new panic in the besieged city, where doctors and other professionals said he was running out of medicines and other necessities.
Despite calls from the UN and others to provide basic services and humanitarian assistance to Tigray’s 6 million people, the Ethiopian government this week called those expectations “absurd” as Tigray forces are now fighting in the neighboring regions of Amhara and Afar. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced there, exacerbating the deadly crisis.
“While not all movements have yet taken place, there will likely be a reduction from nearly 530 to 220 UN staff in Tigray territory,” UN humanitarian spokesman Saviano Abreu told AP. The decision, he said, “is directly related to the operational constraints we have faced in recent months,” as well as the volatile security situation.
Abreu said the blockade of Tigray made it extremely difficult for humanitarian organizations to support life-saving activities at a time when they were most needed due to lack of fuel and cash.
According to him, about 1,200 humanitarian workers will remain in Tigray, including a reduced UN presence.
AP in recent weeks has confirmed the first deaths from starvation in Tigray during the government blockade.
Aid workers are also trying to reach displaced and often hungry people in the Amhara and Afar regions, where blackouts and intense fighting have hampered efforts to confirm warring parties’ claims. Witnesses told AP that some Tigray forces are killing civilians, the latest abuse in a war marked by gang rapes, mass expulsions and mass detentions of ethnic Tigers.
This week’s airstrikes in the capital of Tigray “seem to be part of an effort to weaken the armed resistance of Tigray, which has recently made new strides in the eastern region of Amhara, with fighting continuing in some areas. “Along with excellent human resources, sky control is one of the few remaining areas of military advantage for the federal government,” said William Davison, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, in a statement. “The bombing of urban areas, however, heightens the impression that Addis Ababa is willing to risk the lives of civilians in Tigray as part of its war effort.”