UN suspends humanitarian flights to Tigray in Ethiopia after airstrikes


Ethiopia’s latest aerial bombardment of the capital of Tigray on Friday injured 11 civilians and forced a UN flight bound for the famine-threatened region to turn around, humanitarian and medical sources told AFP on Friday.

The incident led the UN to suspend its twice-weekly passenger flights to Tigray for humanitarian personnel, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters at a press conference.

The attack, the fifth in the city since Monday according to the government, coincided with the intensification of fighting further south in the Amhara region as the Ethiopian war lasts for nearly a year.

A spokeswoman for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, Billene Seyoum, told AFP that the air force was targeting a training center used by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) rebel group that “also served as a center for the terrorist organization’s battlenet. ”

Residents told AFP that the strike hit a field, with one reported setting fire to the dried grass collected for livestock.

A civilian wounded in a previous attack who was being treated at Ayder Referral Hospital’s flagship hospital in Tigray succumbed to his injuries on Friday, said research director Dr. Hayelom Kebede.

The Abiy government has been locked in a war against the TPLF since last November, although Tigray itself has seen little fighting since late June, when rebels seized control of much of Ethiopia’s northernmost region and the military rallied. withdrew heavily.

On Monday, the Ethiopian air force launched two attacks in Mekele, the capital of Tigray, which according to the UN killed three children and wounded several more.

And on Wednesday it bombed the TPLF weapons depots in Mekele and the town of Agbe, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) to the west.

A hospital official told AFP that Wednesday’s strike in Mekele injured at least eight people, including a pregnant woman.

A fourth attack in Mekele on Thursday resulted in no casualties, according to doctors and the TPLF.

The UN flight that was forced back due to Friday’s attack was carrying 11 humanitarian personnel, said Gemma Connell, head of the UN’s humanitarian coordination office for East Africa.

“I can confirm that the government was informed of that flight before it took off, and I can also confirm that the flight was forced to reverse in the air due to events on the ground,” Connell said.

TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda criticized the air force for putting the flight at risk.

“Our air defense units knew that the UN plane was scheduled to land and it was largely due to its containment that it did not get caught in a crossfire,” Getachew said on Twitter.

Civilians flee south

The international community has expressed alarm at the attacks.

A spokesman for the US State Department said Wednesday that Washington “condemns the continuing escalation of violence, which puts civilians in danger.”

The airstrikes come amid reports of heavy fighting in Amhara, where the TPLF launched an offensive in July.

On Wednesday, Getachew claimed that rebel fighters had seized control of at least two new towns in Amhara, putting the towns of Kombolcha and nearby Dessie, where tens of thousands have taken refuge from their advance, “within range of artillery.” .

Much of northern Ethiopia is blocked from communications and access for journalists is restricted, making independent verification of claims on the battlefield difficult.

Dessie residents reported a heavy military presence in the area on Thursday as displaced civilians from conflict-affected cities further north continued to arrive.

Help problems

Meanwhile, the UN has once again sounded the alarm about dire humanitarian conditions in Tigray, saying on Thursday that some aid groups were forced to suspend food distribution due to lack of fuel.

The AFP has documented starvation deaths in various parts of Tigray, based on internal documents from aid groups active there.

The UN said last week that the number of young children hospitalized for severe malnutrition between February and August was double that recorded during the same period last year.

About 2.5 percent of children screened were diagnosed with severe malnutrition in the past week, the UN said on Thursday, up from 2.3 percent the previous week.

Thursday’s report also noted that during the week ending October 13, only 52,000 people in Tigray received food assistance, or one percent of the 5.2 million targeted by aid groups.

“To reach 5.2 million people with food assistance in a six-week cycle, partners are expected to help at least 870,000 people on average per week,” the report said.