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Ethiopian jets bomb Tigray capital as fighting escalates

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia: Ethiopian fighter jets have bombed the capital of the restive Tigray state, sources said as the federal government resisted international pressure for mediation in the conflict with forces loyal to the regional governing party.

Ann Encontre, a representative of the United Nations refugee agency in Ethiopia, said colleagues in the city of Mekelle, on Monday, reported witnessing “an airstrike, not far from them”.

“We don’t know the target and who was targeted,” she said.

“We have intermittent communication with colleagues when we do get access to the internet, but still we know that everybody was deadly afraid and civilians started moving right away.”

Diplomatic and military sources confirmed the Ethiopian air force bombed areas around Mekelle. However, there was no information on casualties or damage and there was no immediate comment from the Ethiopian government.

Debretsion Gebremichael, leader of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), said at least two civilians were killed and several wounded. He said in a text message to Reuters that while Mekelle had been bombed, the town of Alamata in southern Tigray had been hit by a drone attack.

Ethiopia’s task force said earlier that federal troops had taken the control of Alamata, about 120 kilometres  (75 miles) from Mekelle. There was no immediate comment from Tigray’s leaders about Alamata.

With internet and telephone communications mainly down and media barred from reporting from the northern region, it is not possible to independently verify assertions made by all sides.

“The conflict remains very active,” Encontre said, describing a “very dismal situation”.

Ethiopian Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen said on Monday that the government was doing all it could to safeguard civilians.

Related story: Ethiopian PM appoints new Tigray leader as Amnesty reports ‘massacre’

“The government will take responsibility for the safety of civilians,” he told a meeting with members of the diplomatic corps and representatives of foreign organisations in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.

Ambassador Dina Mufti, a spokesman for Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the federal government was targeting individuals “who committed crimes” against it.

“Ethiopia will never let its national interests be compromised,” he said, describing the military offensive as “an internal affair”.

Some 25,000 refugees have fled to neighbouring Sudan and hundreds of people have been reported dead since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered air raids and a ground offensive on November 4 against Tigray’s local rulers for defying his authority. Both sides have been accused of committing atrocities against civilians.

Abiy, 44, has so far resisted pressure for talks to end a conflict that has threatened to destabilise the wider Horn of Africa region.