NAIROBI (AFP): Ten people were killed in a second day of air strikes on Ethiopia’s Tigray region Wednesday, a hospital official said, in attacks that came after authorities there expressed readiness for a cease-fire.
Twin drone attacks hit a residential neighborhood in the regional capital Mekele, killing 10 people and injuring others, said Kibrom Gebreselassie, a senior official at Ayder Referral Hospital, the biggest in Tigray.
“Death toll raised to 10,” Kibrom told AFP via text message, after earlier reporting six killed and more than 10 injured in the two blasts around 7:30 am (0430 GMT).
Fasika Amdeslasie, a surgeon at the same hospital, said the first bombing injured two women, followed by a second “drone strike on the people gathered to help and see the victims.”
“Among the victims, a father was dead and his son is taken to surgery,” he said on Twitter.
Earlier a spokesman for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which has been fighting Ethiopia’s government for nearly two years, said civilians had been killed and wounded in the strike but did not provide further details.
AFP was not able to independently verify the claims. Access to northern Ethiopia is severely restricted and Tigray has been under a communications blackout for over a year.
The reported attack followed a drone strike on Tuesday on Mekele University, which the TPLF said caused injuries and property damage.
Dimtsi Weyane, a TPLF-affiliated TV network broadcasting in Tigray, said its station was also hit on Tuesday, forcing it off air and “causing heavy human and material damage.”
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government has not commented on this week’s reported bombings and AFP requests to officials were not answered.
Tigray has been hit by several air strikes since fighting resumed in late August between government forces and their allies and TPLF rebels in northern Ethiopia.
The return to combat shattered a March truce and dashed hopes of peacefully resolving the war, which has killed untold numbers of civilians and triggered a humanitarian crisis in northern Ethiopia.
Both sides have accused the other of firing first, and fighting has spread from around southern Tigray to other fronts farther north and west, while also drawing in Eritrean troops who backed Ethiopian forces during the early phase of the war.
TPLF military boss Tadesse Worede on Tuesday said “Eritrean forces are in Sheraro,” a town in northwestern Tigray, where the rebels said they were resisting a major offensive by Ethiopia and Eritrean troops launched earlier this month.
On Sunday, the TPLF said it was ready for a cease-fire and would accept a peace process led by the African Union (AU), removing an obstacle to negotiations with Abiy’s government.
The international community has urged the warring sides to seize the opportunity for peace, with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, AU Commission chief Moussa Faki Mahamat, and the East African bloc IGAD welcoming the offer by “the regional government of Tigray” to hold talks.
Frantic diplomatic efforts are under way to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict, with the new US envoy to the Horn of Africa, Mike Hammer, extending his visit to Ethiopia this month.
Addis Ababa is still yet to officially comment on the overture by Tigrayan authorities, which dominated national politics for nearly three decades until Abiy came to power in 2018.
Abiy’s government has declared the TPLF a terrorist group, and considers its claim to authority in Tigray illegitimate.
In March, the UN said at least 304 civilians had been killed in the three months prior in air strikes “apparently carried out by the Ethiopian Air Force.”
The UN human rights office has documented aerial bombardments and drone strikes on refugee camps, a hotel and a market.
It has warned that disproportionate attacks against non-military targets could amount to war crimes.
The government has accused the TPLF of staging civilian deaths from air strikes to manufacture outrage, and insists it only targets military sites.
Abiy, a Nobel Peace laureate, sent troops into Tigray in November 2020 to topple the TPLF in response to what he said were attacks on federal army camps.
But the TPLF recaptured most of Tigray in a surprise comeback in June 2021.
It then expanded into the neighboring regions of Afar and Amhara before the fighting reached a stalemate.