Addis Ababa – Ethiopian and Eritrean forces launched a “massive” joint offensive against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in the northern region of Tigray on Thursday, the rebels said.
“The enemy, having already relocated a massive military force to Eritrea, has now begun a joint campaign with the foreign invading force of Eritrea to brutalise and exterminate the people of Tigray,” the rebels’ military command said in a statement.
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.
TPLF spokesperson Kindeya Gebrehiwot told AFP the attack was coming “from Eritrea”.
Another TPLF spokesperson, Getachew Reda, described it as a four-pronged offensive. He said on Twitter that the rebels were “defending their positions” and reported “heavy shelling” from some locations.
Addis Ababa has not responded to requests for comment about the reported offensive.
Fighting between government forces and the rebels had resumed last week after a five-month lull, with clashes on the ground and air raids over Tigray dashing hopes of peacefully resolving the nearly two-year war.
Combat had been concentrated around the southeastern border of Tigray, with the rebels pushing into the neighbouring Amhara and Afar regions, sending residents fleeing.
The government on Wednesday accused the TPLF of launching a wider “invasion” into parts of western Tigray, and other areas west of the initial clashes.
The rebels in turn alleged that the government and its neighbour Eritrea – which backed federal forces during the war’s early phase – were responsible for opening a new front.
On Thursday, the government said TPLF attacks “had further continued to intensify”.
“Innocent civilians are being killed; many are being displaced and property is being destroyed,” the Government Communication Service said in a statement.
Fighting has spread since combat erupted on August 24, while the capital of the war-torn Tigray region has been hit twice by air strikes.
The first air raid on Mekele killed at least four people, including children, in a strike the UN children’s agency UNICEF said “hit a kindergarten”.
The second, around midnight on Tuesday, caused injuries and property damage, the TPLF said.
Both sides accused each other of firing first and shattering a March truce that had paused the worst of the bloodshed in northern Ethiopia.
The renewed fighting has alarmed the international community, with UN chief Antonio Guterres and senior diplomats from the European Union and the African Union among those to appeal for restraint.
ALSO READ | New air strike hits capital of Ethiopia’s Tigray
Britain’s Minister for Africa, Vicky Ford, described the return to conflict as “catastrophic” for the people of Ethiopia and called on all sides to cease hostilities.
“Tigrayan forces should immediately cease fighting in Amhara region and return to Tigray,” she said in a statement on Thursday. “Eritrean forces should leave Tigray.”
In a tweet issued before the latest reported offensive, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on the Ethiopian government and the TPLF “to immediately halt military operations and redouble efforts to bring a permanent end to the conflict”.
“We remain deeply concerned at the resumption of fighting and the lives that it puts at risk,” he said.
Legesse Tulu, a spokesman for the Ethiopian government, responded on Twitter, saying: “The US Government needs to cease the ‘both parties’ rhetoric and denounce the destructive path of TPLF affecting various Ethiopian communities.”
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into Tigray to topple the TPLF in November 2020 in response to what he said were rebel attacks on federal army camps.
The TPLF recaptured most of Tigray in a surprise comeback in June 2021 and expanded into Afar and Amhara, before the fighting reached a stalemate.
For months at the start of the war, his government strenuously denied the involvement of Eritrean forces in the conflict, though Abiy later admitted their presence in Ethiopia and said they had withdrawn.
Although Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a brutal border war in 1998-2000 that left tens of thousands dead, Abiy initiated a rapprochement with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki that earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019.
Eritrea lent Ethiopia military backing when the Tigray conflict broke out, and its troops have been implicated in multiple massacres and other atrocities during the war, allegations Asmara denies.
Unknown numbers of civilians have died and millions are suffering from a humanitarian crisis in northern Ethiopia, with the conflict hindering efforts to assist those in need.
The government said on Thursday that the TPLF was diverting aid supplies to its fighters.
US aid chief Samantha Power said humanitarian workers in Tigray, Afar and Amhara were “facing unacceptable interference — including detentions, looting of fuel, and vehicle seizures”.
“USAID reiterates our call for all parties to respect humanitarian operations so that aid can reach those in need,” Power posted on Twitter on Wednesday.
Picture: Getty Images