Nairobi (AFP) – Aid agencies have suspended work in an area of Ethiopia’s Tigray region after a deadly airstrike on a camp for people displaced by the 14-month war in the country, the UN said on Sunday.
The raid came just hours after the Ethiopian government called for “national reconciliation”, and prompted further calls from an alarmed international community for an end to the brutal conflict.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told AFP in a statement that the attack at midnight on Friday in the town of Dedebit, in northwestern Tigray, had “caused dozens of civilian victims including dead “, according to its initial information.
“Humanitarian partners have suspended their activities in the region due to persistent threats of drone strikes,” he said.
Rebels in Tigray said on Saturday the attack left 56 dead, while an official at the main hospital in the region said 55 dead and 126 injured.
It has not been possible to independently verify the claims as access to the war-torn region is restricted and it remains subject to a communication failure.
There was no response to requests for comment from Ethiopian government officials.
OCHA said the lack of essential supplies, especially medical supplies and fuel, “severely disrupted the response to the injured and (a) led to the near total collapse of the health system in Tigray.”
“The escalation of airstrikes is alarming, and we once again remind all parties to the conflict to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law,” he said.
Fighting between forces loyal to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and rebels from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray (TPLF) has left thousands dead and created a deep humanitarian crisis in the north.
Tigray itself is under what the UN calls a de facto blockade that prevents food and life-saving medicine from reaching its six million inhabitants, including hundreds of thousands in conditions bordering on starvation.
Dedebit’s strike came on the same day the Ethiopian government announced an amnesty for several senior officials of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and other prominent opposition leaders in what it has described as an attempt to promote national dialogue and “unity”.
The amnesty has been hailed by the international community as a possible outcome to the fighting that threatened to tear apart Africa’s second most populous country.
It followed a dramatic turnaround in battlefield fortunes, with rebels retreating to their Tigray stronghold in late December in the face of a military offensive that saw government forces retake a series of strategic towns.
Although there appears to have been a lull in fighting since, the rebels have accused the government of continuing to carry out deadly drone attacks on Tigray.
OCHA reported last month that dozens of civilians were reportedly killed in the last days of December in a barrage of air raids in Tigray.
And the United Nations reported this week that three Eritrean refugees including two children were killed in an airstrike on Wednesday on a refugee camp in Tigray.
The US Bureau of African Affairs called the attacks “unacceptable”.
“We redouble our call for an immediate end to hostilities, the swift launch of an inclusive national dialogue and unhindered access so that aid can reach all Ethiopian communities in need,” he said on Twitter.
© 2022 AFP