Nairobi – Dozens of civilians were reportedly killed last week in a barrage of air strikes in Ethiopia’s conflict-wracked northernmost Tigray region, the highest casualties recorded since October, the UN’s emergency-response agency said on Thursday.
Ethiopia’s government said last week that its troops would not advance further into Tigray, signalling a potential pause in fighting even as Tigrayan rebels accuse the military of carrying out several air strikes in the region this month.
The claims by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) rebel group could not be independently confirmed by AFP.
On Thursday, the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that air strikes between December 19 to 24 had “reportedly led to mass civilian casualties, including dozens of people reportedly killed, making this the most intense series of air attacks and casualties reported since October.”
The strikes reportedly hit the towns of Alamata, Korem, Maychew, Mekoni, and Milazat in southern Tigray, with one destroying an electrical substation in the regional capital Mekele, OCHA said, without providing further details about the source for the reports.
“Due to limited access and insecurity in the area, humanitarian partners could not verify the exact number of casualties yet,” the agency said.
The TPLF announced a retreat to Tigray last week, marking a turning point in the war which has left thousands of people dead and pushed many more into famine.
OCHA said the situation in northern Ethiopia remains “tense and unpredictable” with aid workers struggling to get crucial supplies to those in need.
“No trucks with humanitarian aid cargo entered Tigray since 14 December,” the agency said, citing security issues.
“Overall, 1 338 trucks have entered the region since 12 July, which represents less than 12% of the required supplies required to meet the scale of humanitarian needs.”
The fighting in Africa’s second most populous nation has displaced more than two million people and more than nine million are in need of food aid, according to UN estimates.
There have been reports of massacres, mass rapes and other atrocities by all sides, and the UN Human Rights Council has ordered a probe into a wide range of alleged abuses, a move condemned by Addis Ababa.
The war broke out in November last year when Abiy sent troops into Tigray to topple the TPLF, accusing its fighters of attacking army camps.
He vowed a swift victory, but the TPLF mounted a shock comeback, recapturing most of Tigray by June before advancing into neighbouring Afar and Amhara.
At one point, the rebels claimed to be only 200km (125 miles) by road from the capital Addis Ababa, sparking alarm among foreign governments who urged their citizens to leave the country as soon as possible.
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