Ethiopia air strikes hit Tigray for fourth time in a week

UN plane aborts scheduled landing in Mekelle because of the air strike

A satellite image shows smoke rising from Mekelle, Ethiopia, on October 20, 2021. Reuters
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Ethiopia conducted an air strike on the capital of the northern Tigray region on Friday for the fourth day this week, as fighting intensified between central government and regional forces.

Government spokesperson Legesse Tulu said Friday's air strike targeted a base in the regional capital Mekelle formerly belonging to the Ethiopian military and now being used by rebellious Tigrayan forces as a training site.

Getachew Reda, spokesman for the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), which controls the region, told Reuters the strike had hit the compound of Mekelle University. He said he had no information on casualties.

Two humanitarian sources in Ethiopia also told Reuters that the strike had hit Mekelle University. The government spokesperson, however, said the university was not hit.

Gemma Connell, an East Africa-based UN aid official, said a UN humanitarian flight headed from the capital Addis Ababa to Mekelle was on Friday forced to turn back in mid-air due to the shelling. Mr Tulu said he had no information about this.

Government forces also struck targets in Mekelle on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday this week.

War broke out nearly a year ago between federal troops and the TPLF, which ruled Ethiopia for three decades at the helm of a multi-ethnic coalition and now controls the northern region. Thousands of people have been killed and more than two million have been forced to flee.

The government air strikes this week come amid intensified fighting in Amhara, a neighbouring northern region where the government launched a ground offensive last week to recover territory it lost to the TPLF several months ago.

Fuel shortages have forced some aid groups to suspend food distribution in Tigray region, where famine threatens hundreds of thousands of people, the UN said.

About 14 fuel trucks are stranded in Afar region, home to the only viable land route into Tigray, despite having been granted permission to proceed, the UN's humanitarian co-ordination office said in a report released on Thursday.

"Due to the severe shortages of fuel, several humanitarian partners were forced to significantly reduce or suspend their activities," it said in a weekly situation report for the year-long conflict in northern Ethiopia.

"Since 11 October, out of the seven main active food partners, for instance, at least three have already [been] forced to cease food distribution. The other four will also have to cease distribution outside Mekelle within one week if fuel is not received."

The UN said last week the number of young children admitted to hospital because of severe malnutrition between February and August was double the number recorded during the same period last year.

About 2.5 per cent of screened children were found to be suffering with severe malnutrition during the past week, the UN said on Thursday, up from 2.3 per cent the week before.

Updated: October 22, 2021, 6:50 PM