The capital of Ethiopia’s war-torn Tigray region was covered in smoke on Wednesday as the city was hit by another day of airstrikes, eyewitnesses and authorities told CNN.
The airstrikes on Mekelle were targeting weapons sites used by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), said Billene Seyoum, an Ethiopian government spokesperson.
Ethiopia’s federal government launched a military offensive to oust the TPLF last November and fighting has been ongoing since.
Seyoum added that one of these sites, Mesfin Industrial Engineering, has been “appropriated by the TPLF as a heavy weapons storage, manufacturing and repair site.”
Getachew Reda, spokesperson for the TPLF, responded on Twitter to the airstrike saying it “targeted a residential quarters in Mekelle causing injury to civilians and harm to property.”
Two eyewitnesses told CNN that the airstrikes did hit near Mesfin industrial complex and shattered the windows of a local hotel.
“The whole city is covered with smoke,” one eyewitness said, adding that they heard there were several casualties. CNN has not confirmed independently there are casualties.
This comes just days after three children were killed and one person injured in another airstrike on the capital Monday.
At the time, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said through his spokesman Stephane Dujarric that he was deeply concerned over the escalation of the conflict and reiterated his call for all hostilities to stop.
The UN has moved around 100 staff members out of Tigray due to safety concerns, with 400 UN personnel remaining, deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said Wednesday.
There are nearly 2,000 aid workers that remain in Tigray, including those from the UN and national and international NGOs, Haq said.
Ethiopia said in late September that it was expelling seven senior United Nations officials, just days after the UN’s aid chief warned that the Tigray region was descending into famine due to the government’s blockade of aid deliveries.
An estimated 18,600 children in Tigray under the age of 5 have been admitted for treatment for severe acute malnutrition (SAM) from February to August this year, according to UNICEF. That’s a 100% increase compared to 2020, it said.
The Ethiopian military had been in control of much of Tigray since November 2020, when it launched a major assault on the region with the support of Eritrean soldiers and local militias in an effort to remove the TPLF from power. It was the last time that airstrikes were launched on Mekelle.
The operation was initiated after Abiy accused the TPLF of attacking a federal military base in Mekelle, and after Tigray’s leaders took the decision to elect a regional administration.
But in July, Tigrayan fighters retook Mekelle – a city of a half-million people – marking a stunning turn in the country’s devastating conflict.
In the wake of Mekelle’s capture, the Ethiopian government announced a unilateral ceasefire for several months. But Tigrayan forces categorically ruled out a truce, with a TPLF spokesman saying their forces would not rest until the Ethiopian military and its allied forces had left the entire region.
Ethiopia has seen a wave of atrocities over the past 11 months of conflict, which has forced 2 million to flee, fueled famine and left thousands dead. The conflict, by many accounts, bears the hallmarks of genocide.
Bethlehem Feleke reported from Nairobi, Katie Polglase and Gianluca Mezzofiore reported from London. Sheena McKenzie wrote in London. Lindsay Isaac contributed to this report