Fierce fighting has broken out in Mekelle, the eyewitness said, two days after Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed warned the country has entered the “final phase” of a “law enforcement” military operation in the northern restive region of Tigray after a 72-hour deadline
to surrender expired.
The leader of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) Debretsion Gebremichael also told Reuters in a text message on Saturday Mekelle was under “heavy bombardment.”
There have been reports of atrocities committed by federal forces
since Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered air strikes and a ground offensive against Tigray’s rulers for defying his authority. Tigrayan leaders have accused federal forces of killing innocent civilians while targeting churches and homes.
Billene Seyoum, a spokesperson for Abiy, said the “victim/hero narrative” describing TPLF fighters is a “grave denial of justice for millions of Ethiopians,” in a tweet on Saturday.
The federal government has denied targeting civilians previously. A communications blackout in the region has made reporting on claims from both sides difficult.
International leaders have repeatedly expressed grave concern for the disruption of humanitarian access and for violence against civilians during fighting in Mekelle. About half a million residents live in Mekelle, half of whom are children, according to UNICEF.
More than 43,000 Ethiopian refugees
have crossed into neighboring Sudan since fighting began on November 4 when the country’s Nobel laureate leader
vowed “military confrontation”
with the restive region.
Three Ethiopia Red Cross ambulances have been attacked since the clashes began and hospitals in northern Ethiopia are in urgent need of medical supplies, said the International Committee of the Red Cross on Friday.
The number of people internally displaced inside Tigray is growing daily and some pre-existing refugee camps in the region only have food supplies to last three days, according to the UNHCR.
The UNHCR High Commissioner, Filippo Grandi, is in Sudan until Sunday to meet with government officials and partners along with visits to refugee camps.
“I urge Ethiopian leaders to do everything possible to protect civilians, uphold human rights and ensure humanitarian access,” UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres tweeted on Wednesday.
CNN’s Nima Elbagir reported from London, Bethlehem Feleke reported from Nairobi and Awad Ismael and Salah Nasir reported from the Sudan-Ethiopia border.